India is a major fashion, textiles and cotton producer and workers in India are typically internal migrants from other parts of the country. The Covid-19 pandemic has potentially significantly altered supply chains in its fashion and textiles industry.
Following lockdown restrictions and closure of non-essential retail shops, there is evidence that many international fashion brands have cancelled contracts with overseas suppliers or re-negotiated terms, leaving them facing closures and laying off workers. This disruption, alongside mass internal migration due to lockdowns, has increased the likelihood of workers being exposed to many aspects of modern slavery.
A research team from the University of Leeds, in collaboration with the Goa Institute of Management (GIM), is exploring the impact of Covid-19 on fashion supply chains originating in India and the changes in risk for workers for modern slavery.
The research is considering the impact of Covid-19 from both the perspective of workers and suppliers in India and the fashion industry in the UK.
In India, it is exploring how changes to buying practices of fashion brands may have affected the supply chain dynamics and the risk of modern slavery for workers. The research is unique in looking at all tiers of supply chains, from the cotton farm all the way to the stitching of the final garment.
This work is reflected in the UK by assessing the challenges fashion brands are facing as a result of Covid-19 and their ability to manage their modern slavery risks alongside other competing concerns brought by the pandemic.
The research is drawing on baseline data from an earlier project, which explored the issues of modern slavery for the fashion industry in 2018-19. Covid-19 induced changes in attitudes and approaches to the management of modern slavery issues are contrasted with that data.
In line with the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre’s vision to act as a platform for collaboration, the project will also explore the extent to which the lessons learned about the Indian fashion and textile sector are relevant to other sectors and industries through a multi-industry roundtable.
The insights from the research will ultimately assist policymakers by enhancing the evidence on the relationship between changes to buying practices and modern slavery risks. The findings will also support businesses that not only are required to publish transparency in supply chains statements under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, but are also coming under an increasing pressure to improve their purchasing practices in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This project was funded as part of the Modern Slavery PEC call for research on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on modern slavery.
Project team: Dr Mark Sumner, Dr Matthew Davis, Dr Hinrich Voss, University of Leeds; Dr Divya Singhal, Goa Institute of Management, Rishi Sher Singh (specialist in Business & Human Rights). Research Assistants: Fergus Dowling, Naomi Booth Wade, University of Leeds; Suganya Guru, Swati Singh, Goa Institute of Management.