The Issues: Regular Employment

From the sourcing of raw materials, through distribution and manufacturing to retail, millions of workers in the fashion industry are struggling to survive in precarious and insecure jobs. They have no formal contracts and little or no access to the social benefits afforded to permanent workers, leaving them and their families potentially trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Purchasing practices of fashion brands, and the growing trends around fast fashion pose challenges for the industry seeking to provide stable and secure jobs for workers, with sustainable and fair employment practices. A demand for lower prices, shorter lead times, range seasonality and last-minute changes to orders push suppliers and manufacturers to adopt strategies to flex their labour force, with casual work, piece-rate work, sub-contracting and home-based working all part of managing production in a complex supply chain. 

Flexible labour

These casual labour and homeworking practices can add further stress and isolation for workers, with no guarantees of income or workflow. Without regular contracted work, workers struggle to access credit or financial services, making them more vulnerable to loan sharks or other forms of exploitation.

Contract labour (i.e. the employment of workers through third-party labour suppliers, rather than directly by the factory, farm or enterprise) is common in the garment industry, including in key sourcing countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey, both in first-tier suppliers and beyond. The trade union IndustriALL believes that contract garment workers in India sometimes earn less than half the wages paid to permanent workers, for the same work1.

Casual and temporary work and zero-hours contracts are also common at the retail and distribution end of the supply chain. Exploitation of young people in apprenticeships, providing them with no formal training or development, or prospect of a future contract, has been identified in the fashion sector. 

Take Action

Fashion brands and retailers can support regular employment by:

  • understanding and seeking to meet all obligations to employees according to national labour and social security laws;
  • engaging in long-term relationships with key strategic suppliers, and improving forecasting and monitoring of orders and purchasing practices;
  • paying attention to the impact of very short lead times or last-minute changes to orders on the suppliers’ management of their workforces;
  • working with key suppliers to understand the types of contracting or homeworking that occur in practice, and whether longer term or more secure employment can be offered to more workers;
  • ensuring payment of living wages to distribution and retail workers, and phasing out use of zero-hours contracts wherever possible.

Producers, manufacturers and suppliers can support regular employment by:

  • understanding and seeking to meet all obligations to employees according to national labour and social security laws and ensuring any agencies or labour contractors used do the same;
  • adopting clear policies to help those employed through contractors or on a casual basis to move to proper contracts; 
  • collaborating with workers’ organisations and trade unions to regularise work and access to equal benefits, and supporting the organisation of any homeworkers;
  • applying best practice in responsible recruitment, especially when working through labour agencies, paying special attention to recruitment of migrant workers, of whom there are many in the garment and textiles sector.

For more information:

ETI Base Code information

Homeworkers Worldwide resource library 

IndustriALL “What is Precarious Work?” trade union campaign video and action guide

ILO Policies and Regulations to Combat Precarious Employment

Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Best Practice in Recruitment of Migrant Workers

Responsible Recruitment Toolkit (launching in full in early 2018)


1. IndustriALL (2013)The Triangular Trap Report

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