Global inequalities in power allow the profit maximisation model of businesses to shape a global economy that prioritises profit over people. The dominance of this model facilitates various forms of exploitation including poverty wages, discrimination and violence, crackdowns on trade unions and collective organising, rising precarity of work, and lack of social protections. This labour exploitation and the relationship with lead brands and retailers is often obscured by the complex and opaque network of global supply chains. The COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent global economic crisis and advancing climate breakdown have only exacerbated these challenges and inequalities.
This Big Issue area collects the latest news on labour rights issues in global supply chains, as well as our work to support and advance the labour rights demands of workers and the organisations representing them.
Our key focus areas are the apparel and footwear and agricultural (specifically tea) sectors, as well as the rights of migrant workers across many industries. Our current priorities include the impact of crackdowns on freedom of association on workers, how companies’ purchasing practices influence supply chain conditions and the growing impacts of the climate crisis on the rights of workers across the globe.
Falling out of fashion: Garment worker abuse under military rule in Myanmar
Two and a half years after the military takeover in Myanmar, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre evaluates how 46 clothing brands address and practice human rights due diligence and responsible exit in Myanmar, using data from the Myanmar Garment Workers Allegation Tracker and brand responses to a survey on their business strategies in Myanmar.
Global apparel and footwear supply chains
Fashion brands and retailers, based largely in the Global North, reap billions in profit. Yet the workers making their products - mostly women in the Global South - continue to face systematic exploitation, including low wages, denial of freedom of association, gender-based violence, and routine health and safety violations.
Myanmar garment worker allegations tracker
Myanmar’s military illegally seized power on 1 February 2021. Through collaboration with partners and allies inside and outside Myanmar, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is monitoring the significant increase in labour and human rights abuses of garment workers across the country since the military takeover.
Tracking the impact of fashion brands' purchasing practices on workers' rights
Garment workers face mass layoffs, suspended employment & reduced working hours as suppliers report reduced & cancelled orders from brands amid cost-of-living crisis.
Unpicked: Fashion & freedom of association
We interviewed 24 trade union leaders and surveyed 124 union activists and labour advocates in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka on freedom of association during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two thirds (61%) said the situation for freedom of association and collective bargaining has “got worse” since the pandemic.
More on the rights of workers in global apparel and footwear supply chains
Tea and other agricultural supply chains
Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world. But its production is enabled by the exploitation of workers in the Global South. In countries like India and Kenya, tea estates continue to be run on a model barely changed from the colonial era – with workers dependent on their employers for necessities like housing, education for their children and healthcare, and trapped in conditions of poverty and precarity.
Boiling point: Strengthening corporate accountability in the tea industry
The Resource Centre used its Tea Transparency Tracker and data held by Open Supply Hub to link 70 public allegations of human rights abuse identified in 2022 at the supplier level to 16 tea buyers. These include allegations from estates and factories in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kenya and Uganda, concerning violations in relation to: the right to freedom of association, health and safety, wages, benefits and living standards.
Trouble brewing: the need for transparency in tea supply chains
Without supply chain transparency or adequate human rights due diligence processes, tea workers have been unable to hold companies to account when rights abuses occur. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre responded to this by reaching out to 65 tea companies, requesting both supply chain disclosure and responses to a survey on due diligence processes and our findings are summarised in this report.
Tea supply chain transparency tracker
The Resource Centre approached 65 companies with a request for them to disclose the estates and bought-leaf factories that they source their tea from, to be held centrally in the first Tea Transparency Tracker. There are over 3100 estates and factories linked to 20 companies within the Tracker, and all disclosed supplier data is also available under a Creative Commons licence via WikiRate.
Migrant workers in global supply chains
Globally, in sectors such as construction, agriculture, transport and health care, migrants make a vital contribution. However, while labour migration brings economic, social, and cultural benefits to migrants, and to their countries of origin and destination, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Migrant workers in global supply chains
The ILO estimates there are over 169 million international migrant workers globally. In some regions and particular sectors, migrants make up the majority or a significant minority of the workforce. In each of the Gulf states, for example, migrants make up between 60 and 95% of the working population. Northern, Southern and Western Europe, and North America are also key receiving regions for migrant workers. Globally, in sectors such as construction, agriculture, transport and health care, migrants make a vital contribution. However, while labour migration brings economic, social, and cultural benefits to migrants, and to their countries of origin and destination, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
International Migrants Day: Global Analysis 2023
Between December 1 2022 and November 30 2023, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre recorded 613 human rights abuse allegations against migrant workers toiling in supply chains across the globe. Explore the data through this interactive webpage to see the types of threats migrant workers face, which industries benefit from abuse and which migration corridors are most dangerous for the workers who use them.
After the final whistle: Migrant workers speak out on exploitation during Qatar World Cup 2022
The Resource Centre worked with partner organisations to interview a total of 78 returnees and workers still in Qatar six months after the end of the World Cup. Interviewees are from six countries across South Asia (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan) and East Africa (Kenya and Uganda). Most starkly, all interviewed workers experienced labour exploitation during the World Cup, including 20 employed by official Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup contractors and 17 who worked at World Cup stadiums and other official FIFA venues during the tournament.
More on the rights of migrant workers in global supply chains
Other featured content
Engagement, remedy & justice: Priorities for the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive from workers in the Global South
A briefing outlining how the EU's new human rights due diligence law can promote the rights and needs of workers in EU supply chains
A resource for companies and investors to address forced labour in global supply chains.
Trade and corporate accountability
News and analysis covering the overlap between international trade agreements and labour abuse