Rights violations such as forced labour, modern slavery and child labour have increased in key garment manufacturing countries in the global supply chain of fashion goods, including Bangladesh, said a report published on Thursday by risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.
The report, "Worldwide decline in labour rights strikes at heart of global supply chains," compared the firm's Q3 2017 and Q3 2021 human rights index scores of major sourcing and manufacturing hubs.
The state of labour rights in these markets point to a years-long trend of steady degradation that predates Covid-19, said Sofia Nazalya, human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft and author of the report.
"There is a tendency to think — in many cases, quite correctly — that the pandemic has exacerbated a lot of labour rights issues, which it certainly has," Nazalya told the Business of Fashion.
"But I think the key takeaway that we got from... our data over the last five years is that... the decline of labour rights has actually taken place way [before] the start of the pandemic," she said.
Vietnam and Cambodia, increasingly pivotal hubs for apparel and footwear production, have plummeted in the global rankings for modern slavery since 2017, the report said.
The report stated that key sub-national regions like Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital city and a major garment-making hub and China's cotton-producing region of Xinjiang carry even higher risks of modern slavery than their respective national averages.
The latest annual edition of Verisk Maplecroft's Modern Slavery Index showed that over the last five years Myanmar, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia have all plunged from "high" to "extreme" risk in the ranking of 198 countries to join the likes of China, Pakistan and DR Congo.
Modern slavery is just one factor posing risks to existing supply chains, Sofia Nazalya added.
Worker health and safety, for example, has been in steep decline in the last five years, with Bangladesh and India both labelled extreme risk for violations in this area. Covid-19 has compounded the issue, the report said; adding that garment workers in some cases expected to continue working amid outbreaks without being prioritised for vaccination.
The situation has worsened even in once-promising emerging markets such as Myanmar and Ethiopia because of unrest, political destabilisation and violence. The report gave both the countries the worst possible rating for security forces and human rights violations.