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Textile, garment and apparel production

IOSH policy position

Hundreds of millions of people working in the global textile and garment industry face many occupational safety and health (OSH) risks. Here is IOSH’s view on this.

What’s the issue?

The global textile and garment industry employs 300 million people across value chains, with its workers disproportionately exposed to various occupational hazards and risks, including hazardous chemicals, mechanical risks, ergonomic risks, psychosocial risks, and physical risks.

Asia accounts for over half of the world’s clothing and textile exports, with workers commonly in sweatshop conditions, working long hours on low wages in systematically hazardous conditions. Women and migrant workers are disproportionately vulnerable to exploitation with undocumented migrant workers fearing deportation or imprisonment. For women, who represent 85 per cent of the garment sector workforce in Asia, exploitation includes experiencing gender pay gaps, and physical and sexual violence.

How do we see it?

Modern slavery is the major human rights issue of our time and is rife within the textile, garment and apparel supply chains. It’s a crime hidden in plain sight, yet an abuse which fails to command the warranted political and media attention and multi-faceted approach required to fight these insidious crimes.

Human trafficking and modern slavery must be consigned to history. It is not a problem confined to the developing world. Tens of thousands of people on British soil, for example, working in many sectors including textiles and garments production, are victim to modern slavery, and thousands more through the supply chains of Britons’ purchases. The same can be said for other countries.

With its disproportionate prevalence in the textile and garment sector, industry collaboration is crucial. Organisations must implement socially responsible procurement measures, and trace beyond their immediate/tier 1 suppliers, to monitor and influence health and safety standards, and to improve transparency and due diligence across the entire value chain.

  • Put pressure on partner countries to enhance workers' human rights by incorporating policies within trading agreements to raise standards.
  • Strengthen and enforce labour laws.
  • Provide better regulation of factories, transparency and labour rights.
  • Enact or strengthen modern slavery laws and introduce legally binding guidelines and ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining.
  • Ratify the following International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions:
    1. 29 – Forced Labour Convention
    2. 87 – Freedom of Association
    3. 98 – Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining
    4. 100 – Equal Remuneration
    5. 105 – Abolition of Forced Labour
    6. 111 - Discrimination in Employment and Occupation
    7. 138 – Minimum Age
    8. 155 - Occupational Safety and Health
    9. 182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour
    10. 187 – Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health
    11. 170 – Chemicals Convention
    12. 174 – Prevention of Major Industrial Accidents
    13. 190 – Violence and Harassment.
  • Develop robust OSH management systems and comply with national and international regulations.
  • Go beyond audits with thorough due diligence to conduct and disclose supply chain risk assessments.
  • Leverage purchasing practices to set expectations for suppliers and partners.
  • Conduct regular minimum wage reviews to address rising living costs and inflationary economies.
  • Increase empowerment of, and access to, Trade Unions and collective bargaining.
  • Adopt effective mitigations against chemicals, extreme workplace temperatures and flooding.
  • Create grievance mechanisms to ensure robust systems and swift remediation.

This policy position represents IOSH's view as of April 2024 based on the best evidence available to us. We will review it periodically and reserve the right to change and update it drawing on new information.