Risk, Reporting and Responsibility: Modern Slavery, Colonial Power and Fashion’s Transparency Industry
This article investigates the role of the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018 as a reporting mechanism aimed at preventing the use of forced labour in global supply chains. In the fashion industry, modern slavery legislation pursues the ambitions of activist movements that have long campaigned for increased knowledge about supply chain practices to improve the labour conditions of garment workers, especially for those in the Global South. In recent years, such campaigns against the entrenched opacity of the global fashion system have given rise to a transparency industry built on practices of auditing and supply chain management, including in relation to modern slavery legislation. This article analyses 10 modern slavery statements submitted to the online Modern Slavery Register by fashion brands operating in Australia in the 2019–2020 reporting period to explore how the Modern Slavery Act 2018 participates in colonial relations of power. It focuses on three aspects of the statements: factory reporting and third-party auditing, corporate grievance mechanisms, and risks associated with COVID-19. Finally, the article argues that while improved transparency can generate positive outcomes for workers, the reporting required by modern slavery legislation is often more concerned with providing assurances about labour standards to consumers and stakeholders in the Global North than with the needs or experiences of workers in the Global South.
Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.