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CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY

The record shows we can’t rely on big fashion to regulate itself.

The global fashion industry is notorious for rights violations and sweatshop conditions. The industry’s current model is one of neocolonial wealth extraction: labour and natural resources in the global south are exploited for the profit of fashion companies in the global north – and the tax coffers of the states they are headquartered in. UK fashion brands maximise profits by moving freely around the world in search of cheaper production: putting downward pressure on pricing and causing a global race-to-the-bottom in working conditions and rights abuses. Meanwhile, increasingly violent and punitive border regimes trap garment workers from the global south into low wages and poor conditions by preventing workers from moving freely, and creating the conditions for exploitation when they do

Fashion brands think that by outsourcing production to factories around the world in this way, they can avoid responsibility for the rights abuses and environmental harms they profit from. Brands avoid accountability by hiding where their garments are made and who makes them. Brands avoid accountability by saying the factories they source from are the ones responsible for rights violations – as though brands’ power to pick up and leave, and their downward pressure on pricing, does not shape the industry and create the conditions for abuse. Brands avoid accountability by outsourcing responsibility for investigating what conditions are like for workers making their clothes to for-profit social auditing companies who, like brands, have an interest in finding nothing amiss. 

Brands profit from the way things are, so they aren’t going to fix it themselves. Time and time again, brands have shown that voluntary initiatives are not enough to prevent violations of the most basic labour, trade union, and human rights of garment workers in their globalised supply chains. Garment workers around the world are organising to improve their own working conditions, to hold the companies profiting from their exploitation to account, and to transform their industry – but this fight is deeply unequal. We need more tools to strengthen workers’ hand.

TAKE ACTION

Write to your MP today to tell them you support a new Law to hold brands accountable for failure to prevent garment worker rights abuses  and so should they!

Our Demands

We need new laws to enable garment workers around the world to hold fashion companies in the global north accountable for the rights abuses and environmental harm they profit from, and to force changes in corporate behaviour. 

A number of European countries have recently passed laws like this. In 2017, France passed its Duty of Vigilance Law, nicknamed the “Rana Plaza law”, after the mass industrial homicide of 1138 garment workers in Bangladesh opened the world’s eyes to the need to regulate international fashion companies. In 2022, Norway’s Transparency Act entered into force, placing obligations on companies to identify, assess, and respond to adverse impacts on human rights and working conditions in their supply chains. In 2023, Germany’s Supply Chain Act introduced due diligence obligations for companies based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, accompanied by strong regulatory oversight and enforcement. Most recently, on 24 April 2024, the European Parliament approved the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive, which will eventually require EU member states to enact laws obliging companies to carry out due diligence and prevent, mitigate and remediate rights violations. 

The UK is lagging behind our neighbours. We urgently need a new UK Business, Human Rights and the Environment (BHRE) Act modelled on the ‘failure to prevent’ liability provisions of the Bribery Act s.7. Alongside our partners in the Corporate Justice Coalition, Labour Behind the Label’s position is that in order to be effective, a new BHRE law must include the following elements:

1. Commercial and other organisations have a duty to prevent adverse human rights and environmental impacts of their domestic and international operations, products and services including in their supply and value chains.

2. Commercial and other organisations must develop and implement reasonable and appropriate due diligence procedures to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse human rights and environmental impacts.

3. Commercial and other organisations must publish a forward-looking plan describing the procedures to be adopted in the forthcoming financial year, and an assessment of the effectiveness of actions taken in the previous financial year.

4. Commercial and other organisations, and their senior managers shall be subject to a civil penalty if they fail to develop, implement and publish a due diligence plan within a reasonable time, or publish a misleading or inadequate plan.

5. Commercial and other organisations shall be liable for harm, loss and damage arising from their failure to prevent adverse human rights and environmental impacts of their domestic and international operations, products and services including in their supply and value chains.

6. It could be a defence from liability for damage or loss, unless otherwise specified, for commercial and other organisations to prove that they acted with due care to prevent human rights and environmental impacts.

7. Commercial and other organisations, and their senior managers shall be subject to a criminal penalty if they fail to prevent serious human rights or environmental impacts.

8. Commercial and other organisations to be included in this legislation include all businesses, no matter their size, nature or sector. It also includes public sector bodies, including those using public procurement and other public bodies providing financial and other support to businesses, such as export credit agencies, development agencies and development finance institutions.

    This kind of law was recommended by the UK Parliament’s Joint Committtee on Human Rights in 2017. The British Institute of International and Comparative Law found in 2020 that it would be legally feasible and could help realise the UK’s commitments under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Civil society organisations , over 150 businesses and investors, and decision-makers across the political spectrum are all calling for a law with these characteristics, as are over 123,000 people in the UK who have signed a petition calling for a new Business, Human Rights and Environment Act. New YouGov polling shows that four in five UK adults want new laws to ensure businesses stamp out exploitation in their supply chains, and that 65% believe people overseas who are harmed by human rights abuses linked to UK businesses should be able to seek justice in UK courts.

    In 2023, Baroness Young of Hornsey introduced a groundbreaking Private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords, called the Commercial Organisations and Public Authorities Duty (Human Rights and Environment) Bill, which aims to meet the urgent need for a UK law to hold companies to account when they fail to prevent human rights abuses and environmental harms in their supply chains. This is the first time such a law is being debated in Parliament, but we need to make sure all politicians know why enacting such a law is so important, and how many of us support it.