Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on Modern Slavery in Global Garment Supply Chains

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: SPERI


Amidst COVID-19, garment supply chains feeding the United Kingdom markets have changed dramatically. As demand for new clothes has plummeted amidst government-imposed lockdowns, brand companies have cancelled orders and refused to pay for goods already produced, leaving suppliers unable to pay wages. As garment producing countries prepare to face intermediate challenges, including reduced order volumes and brand requests for discounts, governments have suspended minimum wages for garment workers, businesses have laid off unionised workers. As garment workers compete for relatively little work, there is widespread concern among civil society, United Nations organisations, and others that these dynamics will fuel and exacerbate business demand for forced labour within the global garment supply chain, while lowering workers' bargaining power for decent work conditions.

This project will undertake a multi-country comparative study to determine whether, how, and with what consequences COVID-19 is deepening vulnerability to forced labour in garment-producing countries. It will use an innovative mixed-methods approach including: supply chain mapping; a multi-country digital survey of workers and suppliers; in-depth interviews with workers, business representatives, trade unionists, and government officials; and analysis of Bank of England Covid Corporate Financing Facility data. Drawing on research methods successfully pioneered through my previous research, this project will generate urgent, ground-level data to deepen understandings of the impact of COVID-19 on those vulnerable to forced labour and efforts to detect and prevent it. The project will put vulnerable workers at the heart of the research with the aim of helping them to influence corporate practices and government policy.


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Description Toronto Star / Global Reporting Center 
Organisation Toronto Star Newspapers Limited
Country Canada 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have initiated a collaboration with the Toronto Star investigative reporting team and the University of British Columbia's Global Reporting Center as media partners for this project.
Collaborator Contribution They will be undertaking reporting on our research findings.
Impact NA, we have a project extension to 15 July 2021.
Start Year 2020
Description Op-Ed for the Globe & Mail (Canada's largest national newspaper) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The Royal Society of Canada asked me to contribute an op-ed on my research to their series in the Globe & Mail. My co-investigator, Penelope Kyritsis, and I took up this invitation and wrote the op-ed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-without-action-modern-slavery-will-surge-in-supply-ch...