Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

New York, UNITED STATES  — It is shocking to believe that slavery still exists today! With 27 million individuals enslaved around the world, it is paramount – and part of our duty – to bring awareness to modern-day slavery in hopes of ending this global atrocity.

According to the CNN Freedom Project, modern slavery is defined as “when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they can not walk away”.

Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

Currently, modern slavery is linked to the hazy supply chains of many industries including electronics, agriculture and fashion. This 30 billion dollar industry, according to the US State Department, is fuelled by a lack of transparency in unregulated production and illegal work practices. Slavery in the fashion world can appear in a variety of forms from harvesting the cotton for a t-shirt, spinning the fibre to yarn, sewing the garment and modelling the final product. The difference between slavery and extremely exploitative labour can be vague and the fashion industry walks a fine line.

It is wise to note that many large fashion brands and companies do not have full control over their supply chains, thus making illegal work practices possible (including sweatshops, trafficking and servitude). Much of the labour and backbone of a clothing collection is contracted out to various players and tracing all the steps from raw material to final product proves quite difficult, thus making exploitation and illegal activities get unnoticed.

The non-profit Free2Work has been tracking well known brands such as Gap, H&M, Levis, and Adidas (to name a few) and ranking them on an A-F scale for “policies, transparency, traceability, monitoring and training or worker rights”. Very few brands received an A and most had D-F grades. Giving consumers the tools they need to make the right purchases is just one part of the process in ending slavery.

Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

Modern Day Slavery in the Fashion Industry

Other organisations work directly with the governments and the industry to combat injustices. Not for Sale and Free The Slaves both use economics, business tools and supply chain scales to eradicate slavery. Free the Slaves believes that “slavery flourishes when people cannot meet their basic needs and lack economic opportunity, education, healthcare and honest government”. By “using business creation, supply chain evaluation and aftercare aid around the globe”, Not for Sale works on the ground with communities and individuals effected by slavery and exploitation across all industries.

Another foundation we applaud was created by Katie Ford, family owner and former CEO of Ford Models who seeks to integrate the fashion industry with the realities of human trafficking and slavery.The Katie Ford Foundation focuses on forced labour, sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Ford brings her experiences from one of the largest international modelling agencies to the issue of slavery since she knows first hand the experiences involved.

As CEO of Ford Models, I brought models from over 50 countries to the United States. Most of them were foreign and young, therefore, they were potentially vulnerable. Ford Models has a history of protecting young women and men by providing housing, shelter, food and medical care, if needed. The work I do to fight human trafficking and forced labour is informed by my previous work, explains Katie Ford.

Bringing awareness to this expansive issue is just the first step. There are obviously many factors that go into ending modern-day slavery, but in hopes of bringing change to the issue keep in mind the clothes you buy and the products you use!

Courtesy,,,  |  Edited by: Elizabeth Deheza
Ariel Clay About the author

Yoga loving model and environmentalist, connects the FG to the world of eco fashion. Educated in San Francisco, she now treads the streets of the Big Apple seeking new talents that share her vision of wellbeing.


  1. Amen – Ariel!!

    As a fashion professional with over 20 years global experience of turning this industry inside and out from many different angles, I have discovered the crux of the problem lies within the consumer and their desire for quick and easy affordable clothing. I value talented sample makers, seamstresses, and sewing machine operators and I pay top dollar for them but I also charge top dollar. The question is, would clothing become unaffordable and too exclusive if everybody was forced to pay couture prices for the well paid talented US based artisans to make their clothes?

    • How can you blame modern day slavery on the consumer wanting to buy clothes for cheap? the problem does not lie with the consumer but with the large corporations who inhumanely treat the people who work for them due to their own greed. the complete cruelty and heartlessness of large corporations causes problems like these, not the everyday individual who has little control over the practices of the companies that they buy from. I do agree of course that fast fashion is a problem, and consumers have a part in that, but I think blaming the general public for problems that are caused buy big business is the wrong approach to changing things.

  2. Thanks for your comment Justina! I think you bring up a valid point and it is worth discussing further.

    Fast Fashion, as I like to call it, is the crux of the issue. Consumers now want more things at low costs, rather than high quality things at medium to high costs. The rate at which fashions change these days almost requires cheap labor to make inexpensive product. I do think there has to be a paradigm shift in consumerism along with combating issues like human trafficking and slave labor.

    Any other Fashion Globe readers have a response or opinion the question Justina proposed?

  3. I think people have to “rethink” their needs. They don’t “need” that $5 tank top in every color- they want it because it is cheap and so they just spent $30 on 6 tank tops. If people stopped buying things without thinking about it – they could be better at assessing their needs – and perhaps find out they needed one tank top – and instead of “wasting” $30 they could buy one great quality one from a place like Everlane, where they only spent $20 – but on one that is probably better quality and where consumers know about the living conditions of the workers etc. That’s my 2 cents anyway.

  4. Thank you for allowing comments on your website. I’m skeptical about ford models. many times, a safe house is not such a safe house afterall, who can you trust, government? The failing Judicial system isn’t on our side. There is no way out unless they don’t want to get paid in the first place. this is only the tip of the ice berg, only a very few who go to Ford Models ever get picked for salary. And I suggest researching into some of the evidence spoken about by Laurel Aston and Zakaos Breedlove Ewing about the fashion industry and how they pick the pretty girls right off the street and then they are never heard from again, so it’s likely that many runway models that are no names in the industry are still slaves, just sayin’

  5. Marselle Piccinin Barbieri :

    Hi Ariel!
    My name is Marselle and I’m a senior in high school and passionate about fashion. I’m doing a argumentative research paper about slave labor in the fashion industry and I need someone to interview and give me some more information about slave labor in the fashion industry and I wanted to know if you could answer some questions for me of what you know about the topic by email.

    thank you.