In the fifth edition of its Modern Slavery Report, released a few days ago, Pentland Brands looks back on a year that presented unprecedented challenges to those already at risk of forced labor, excessive hours and discrimination in the workplace. According to the Global Slavery Index, 58 percent of the people who are in slave labor live in the world’s major cotton or garment-producing countries. It estimates that this makes the fashion industry the second largest perpetrator of modern slavery after technology.

Despite limitations on its ability to work out in the field due to travel restrictions, Pentland Brands sought to refine its strategy to mitigate the risk of modern slavery. It formalized its governance processes for resolving modern slavery issues and publicly disclosed more information about its policies, practices and supply chain to help protect human rights.

In 2020, 103 audits were conducted at companies working with Pentland, including 88 by external auditors, eight ICS (Initiative for Compliance and Sustainability) audits, five under the Better Work program and one conducted by Pentland’s CSR team to improve labor practices in the supply chain. Only five of the audits were not publicized.

The report doesn’t reveal the total number of issues found during the audits, but notes a worsening of working conditions during the Covid-19 year in most of the areas audited: two percent of the issues identified in 2020 were zero-tolerance issues, as compared to 0.8 percent of the issues found in 2019, while 40 percent were classified as critical (33% in 2019) and 58 percent as minor (67% in 2019). The majority of zero-tolerance issues were related to health and safety concerns, and 89 percent of all the problems were related to working conditions, working hours and wages. Pentland says it is “working closely with factories to remediate all issues identified.”

The company formalized its Zero Tolerance Policy last year to more effectively and transparently escalate and address zero-tolerance issues. The Ethical Materials Policy has been updated to guide Pentland’s buying teams in selecting new suppliers and ensure the compliance of existing partners. Pentland has established a new whistle-blowing service through which grievances can be reported. As home workers are particularly prone to the issue of modern slavery, Pentland has supported the development of a toolkit with Homeworkers Worldwide.

Pentland Brands endorsed an initiative convened by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to address the Covid-19 impact on the global garment sector. In some cases, its suppliers were led to switch to producing personal protective equipment for front-line workers. Speedo waived its exclusivity conditions for its goggle supplier in China, so it could manufacture PPE visors and protective goggles.

Pentland says it is now working toward the delivery of modern slavery prevention programs in a number of areas and territories, including the creation of a human rights due diligence framework and a gender equality framework, which will be completed in 2021.

Besides Speedo, the company’s brand portfolio includes Berghaus, Endura, Canterbury, Mitre and KangaROOS, among others.