Forced labour & trafficked on rise in garment industry

19 Feb '08
3 min read

Traffic slave labour popularly perceived to be confined to the informal economy and especially to the sex trade is now a growing problem in the global garment industry, the United Nations Forum to Fight Human Trafficking was told in Vienna.

Citing examples from Mauritius, Jordan, Taiwan, India, Argentina, Romania, the United States and China Neil Kearney, General Secretary of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) said workers were been trafficked to industrialised and developed countries alike and their production was on sale in every high street in Europe and shopping mall in the United States.

The workers involved were the victims of an evil triangle involving labour brokers, garment manufacturers and global retail chains held them for maximising profit at the expense of the workers who produce the clothing.

“The victims all have common characteristics. The common characteristics of being young, cheap, submissive, unprotected and often invisible” said Mr. Kearney.

“Typically they are recruited in their villages, required to pay a fee to the labour broker of up to 20 years the local minimum wage. This fee is usually commuted into a loan which must then be repaid with interest.

This becomes the bond with the labour broker which often enslaves a young worker who is then transferred to a holding or transit centre where they can be held for up to three months while their travel documentation is being obtained.

“A change of mind is not permitted. As the workers are usually fitted out in distinctive overalls – often florescent – they are easily identified as belonging to a particular broker.

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