In the world of fast fashion, where trends are born as quickly as possible, global trade regulations struggle to keep up with the relentless cycles of production and consumption.
In trying to meet the demands of this fast-paced sector, global trade has historically failed to address the troubling reality that lurks behind the industry’s attractive façade: a supply chain tainted by human abuses. rights and forced labor.
But experts say that is changing.
In 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security began enforcing manufacturing and trade standards under the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act to crack down on Asian products that U.S. officials suspect are products of the forced labor of incarcerated people. ethnic minority. That includes the Uyghurs, whose mistreatment has been widely documented.
The United States has banned large quantities of clothing imports from Vietnam, a major exporter of textiles. Companies there have been found to be sourcing materials, including cotton, from Chinese manufacturers that the US government believes have violated trade and labor standards.
“We have a call to use trade as a force for good, advocating for equity that creates real opportunity for all our people,” said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a “Dean’s Dialogue” with of USC Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett in Town and Gown on the University Park Campus in May.
“There are many challenges in the relationship,” Tai said, referring to the US and China. “The growth and development of the People’s Republic of China over the past few decades has been remarkable, but the effects, and especially the negative effects on other economies—including ours—have consequences that are not let’s ignore it.”
Under scrutiny, brands face the human cost of fast fashion
“The fast fashion industry openly admits to making disposable products without apology. But it is important to include labor in the definition of sustainability because people are part of our environment,” said Annalisa Enrile, is a teaching professor of social work at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
Shein, the world’s largest online fashion retailer, has faced repeated criticism for suspected labor and human rights abuses in its supply chain, particularly the use of materials made by imprisoned Uyghur in China’s Xinjiang region. US lawmakers have called for investigations and potential tariffs, further complicating rumors of Shein’s plans to go public. The brand has since moved its headquarters from Nanjing, China, to Singapore and invested in major PR campaigns—including extravagant influencer factory tours in China—to clean up its image.
Enrile—an expert on global justice, human trafficking and exploitative labor—shed light on the plight of migrants and child laborers, who make up a large part of the global labor force. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are over 170 million migrant workers worldwide, almost half of whom are women.
“Wherever you have a large migration, you also have a higher rate of labor exploitation. These countries often have export processing zones where factories are built with different laws and standards to attract businesses. . for working every day, leading to entire villages in developing countries where there are no women,” Enrile said.
Gender-based violence and harassment in the fashion industry is well documented, primarily driven by male factory owners and supervisors who enforce unreasonable production targets imposed on fashion brands. Some employers have resorted to coercive measures, including forcing female workers to swear not to get pregnant, denying maternity leave and firing pregnant employees.
Meanwhile, conservative estimates from the International Labor Organization show that South Asia, a major garment export center in the world, is home to approximately 16.7 million children who age 5-17 working children, with 10.3 million falling within the 5-14 age group. . Children between the ages of 5 and 11 represent nearly a fifth of all child labor in South Asia.
However, Enrile pointed out that it is difficult to quantify and understand the full scale of child labor worldwide because of the differences in its definition among countries. For example, in Vietnam, the working age is 15. In Bangladesh the legal age is technically 14, but children as young as 12 are allowed to engage in vague “light work” .”
Empowered consumers are driving fashion towards social responsibility
In today’s ever-evolving landscape, the rise of conscious consumerism has become a game changer. With a high awareness of the deep environmental and social consequences of their decisions, consumers are putting intense pressure on fashion brands to change their supply and working practices. The demand is clear: conforming to sustainability, accepting social responsibility and embodying unwavering ethical behavior.
“The accessibility of information brings to light the ethical concerns around product sourcing. We see a preference for not only fair trade, but direct trade and more conscious and socially aware consumerism,” said Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, the James Irvine chair in urban and regional planning and professor of public policy at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
Consumers value the origin of products, which shows a preference for products from regions known for their quality, explained Currid-Halkett. An example of this is the revival of American manufacturing, especially the “Made in the US” movement which is prominent in high-end denim and loungewear such as T-shirts and sweatshirts.
“This has great importance for the American economy because it shows a sense of social consciousness around our purchasing decisions. and who makes them,” he said.
The trend is gaining traction among a much larger consumer base, he added. While high-income consumers initially had the means to pay for these types of items, ethically sourced clothing has become more accessible amid growing sensitivity to climate change and social justice.
“The industry’s pursuit of the best version of a product is more than luxury; it involves a balance between quality and affordability. across different products,” Currid-Halkett said.
The future of fashion—and supply chain transparency—is digital
Companies are starting to harness the power of new technologies, such as generative AI and mixed reality, to strengthen their marketing strategies. Through robust e-commerce platforms, they provide personalized recommendations driven by AI algorithms. virtual reality and augmented reality technologies enable virtual trials and immersive shopping experiences.
But this expanding digital toolkit also presents opportunities for improving transparency and accountability in even the most complex supply chains.
Nick Vyas, an associate professor at the USC Marshall School of Business and an expert in global supply chain management, sees great promise in artificial intelligence to transform business processes within the global fashion industry.
Through generative AI, retailers and manufacturers can track inventory using RFID tags and IoT sensors, ensuring better visibility into their apparel supply chains. AI-powered decision-making helps companies select suppliers based on their performance, certificates, and historical and real-time data, ensuring ethical sourcing practices.
“Beyond the search for profitable expansion in new and existing foreign markets, the industry must change its success parameters. We must move from a bottom-line approach to on a triple bottom line that includes profit, people, and the planet,” said Vyas.
“The prevailing economic difficulties should accelerate our investment in new technologies that improve efficiency and promote sustainability. As we navigate these turbulent times, the key to resilience lies not in resisting change but to accept it,” he said.
“Change requires a collective commitment to transparency, both in our own actions and in the systems that govern us,” Enrile added. “As we have taken steps towards environmental sustainability, we must apply the same dedication to human rights.”
Provided by the University of Southern California
Citation: Is fast fashion slowing down? How to use global trade as a ‘force for good’ (2023, July 17) retrieved on 17 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-fast-fashion-global-good .html
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