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.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2022-06-03
Pages:47 to 60
Section:Special Issue: Fashion Justice
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How to Cite
Richards, H. (2022) “Risk, Reporting and Responsibility: Modern Slavery, Colonial Power and Fashion’s Transparency Industry”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(2), pp. 47-60. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2378.

Author Biography

The University of Melbourne

Dr Harriette Richards is a Research Associate in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne working on the ARC Future Fellowship project ‘Modernism, Cosmopolitanism and Consumer Culture’ (2018-2022) with Professor Natalya Lusty. She is co-founder of the Critical Fashion Studies research group and is currently working on projects investigating modern slavery and transparency in the Australian fashion industry and ethical and sustainable fashion innovation. Her work has been published in a range of journals including, most recently, Australian Feminist Studies, Cultural Studies and Gender, Work & Organization and in the edited collection Rethinking Fashion Globalization (Bloomsbury 2021). In 2021, she co-edited with Natalya Lusty and Rimi Khan a special issue on ‘Fashion Futures’ for Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies.