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Report: Top Companies Using Hidden Workforce in Global Supply Chains

Fifty major corporations with combined revenues of $3.4 trillion have been accused of keeping a workforce of 116 million employees under wraps—despite having the resources and the reach to eradicate slave labor in their supply chains.

A new report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), titled, “Scandal: Inside the Global Supply Chains of 50 Top Companies,” charges Gap, H&M, Nike and Walmart, to name a few, with exploiting workers. According to the organization’s research, only 6 percent of the people working in these companies’ global supply chains are in a direct employment relationship.

“Sixty percent of global trade in the real economy is dependent on the supply chains of our major corporations, which uses a business model based on exploitation and abuse of human rights in supply chains,” Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said.

The report said that Gap Inc.—which sells apparel and accessories under the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy brands—has a supply chain that includes 1,000 contractors across 40 countries, such as China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar. With cash holdings of $1.5 billion, the company could increase the wages of 1.5 million by more than $500 a year.

H&M, meanwhile, outsources its clothing production to around 900 suppliers across almost 2,000 factories, with operations throughout Southeast Asia. The ITUC said the Swedish fast-fashion giant could use 50 percent of its $1.9 billion in cash holdings to offer an annual wage increase of $1,187 to 1.6 million workers.

Likewise, Nike could up the wages of 2.5 million of its workers by $1,020 for a year and Li & Fung, which acts as a middleman supplier of apparel and footwear for the likes of Walmart, could increase the annual salary of 3.75 million employees by $747.

“When global business won’t pay the moderate demands of workers for a minimum wage on which they can live with dignity—$177 in Phnom Penh, $250 in Jakarta, $345 in Manila—then this is knowingly condemning workers and their families to live in poverty. It’s greed pure and simple,” Burrow said, adding, “Only by exposing the practices of these companies to consumers and citizens around the world will companies begin to take responsibility for their supply chains and follow the rule of law.”