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Industry Reacts to Apparel Company Allegedly Linked to Forced Labor

The Brain Squad responds to a claim that a wholesale distributor uses cotton linked to slave labor.




BELLA+CANVAS RECENTLY shared this message on its Instagram account: “There is a recent new report that a supplier in our industry is using cotton linked to slave labor.”

We asked the Brain Squad: “What is your reaction to this? How important are globalization, sustainability, and forced labor when considering blank apparel providers?”

See below for what they had to say; read Bella+Canvas’ response here.

  • Important AF. — Steven Farag, Campus Ink
  • Globalization, sustainability, and dignified wages and working conditions are a huge part of our blank apparel buying decision. We try our best to steer our customers toward the most responsible manufacturers. For our brand, we use Allmade exclusively due to their sustainability and humanitarian efforts. — Jessica Tillery, All Quality Graphics
  • We can only make decisions with the information we have, but it is important to make purchasing choices from companies that treat their employees with respect and are responsible environmentally. — Charlie Vetters, Organic Robot Designs
  • Working with apparel providers that are committed to fair labor practices and supply chain transparency can help ensure that workers are not subjected to exploitation or abuse. Unfortunately, forced labor remains a major problem in the garment industry, particularly in countries where labor laws are weakly enforced. There are groups that monitor forced labor in the garment industry: Fair Wear Foundation, Free the Slaves, International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), and United Students Against Sweatshops, along with many others. — Ron Goodwin, Goodwin Graphics
  • The use of slave labor is obviously incomprehensible and must be rooted out and exposed. But the issue is much larger than that obvious example. The main issue is, how can we learn the truth? — Larry Mays, Mays Marketing Group
  • It’s abhorrent to hear of any forced labor in our supply chain, and we want to avoid supporting that. We look for WRAP certification, or similar, before partnering with a brand to produce blanks for us. Most recently we worked with Lane 7 to get shirts made with our tags sew in. When it comes to commercial clients, the choice is with them, and we try to inform them as much as possible. Some clients want organic cotton/USA-made, and others are solely concerned with price, so we must cater to their needs. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the risks of sending too much manufacturing capacity overseas, so it’s wise to foster domestic production when you can, no matter where you are in the world. — Ian Graham, Feels So Good
  • The reports regarding cotton being linked to slave labor within our industry are extremely concerning and should not be taken lightly. Now more than ever, all major suppliers should strongly condemn the use of unethical labor practices. I think we’ll see some of the more eco-conscious players in the industry start to stand out during times like this, as they should. They deserve more recognition. — Andrew Monteyne, All-County Apparel
  • It definitely impacts my decision-making and buying process. — Chris Wachowiak, Ronin Branding
  • We prefer to work with fair trade suppliers. — Maude Swearingen, Fully Promoted Arbutus
  • First reaction? I don’t think that’s news. But OMG, let’s share and speculate! Meanwhile, slave or forced labor remains a viable production strategy worldwide. Same as it ever was? The only way it gets fixed is if producers and retailers clean their supply chain from top to the absolute bottom, and that’s hard to do when their primary materials come from far away. More production done locally provides more chance to keep the supplies ethically clean. — Andy MacDougall, MacDougall Screen Printing
  • I would not support a supplier that uses or supports practices that violate basic human rights. — Ali Banholzer, Wear Your Spirit Warehouse
  • It’s surely not good. Globalization allows companies to find the cheap labor, but there’s a huge difference when one is not willing to do the work. I am willing to pay more for a blank for people to live off fair wages. Sustainability is a conversation that must stay at the forefront of everyday life and industry. On the macro scale I believe it’s trending in the right direction with ethical companies making it apart of the conversation. We (shop owners) must do our part as well with our everyday practices. — Sam Lapcevic, Branded Threads
  • I would love better transparency on all of this. The drive to lower prices comes at a cost we don’t always see. I don’t want to support oppression, but how can I know? The truth regarding supply chain is rarely what they tell you. — Matt Pierrot, GetBOLD – T-shirt Printing and Embroidery
  • It needs to be changed and improved. Shutting it down takes money out of the hands that need it. — Julia Cadotte Capps, J’s Silkscreens
  • All garment decorators have a responsibility to use ethical suppliers. The world is already pretty messed up. We all need to get on the right side of this issue. If Bella+Canvas can substantiate this claim, the industry needs to get behind boycotting this supplier. — Tracey Johnston-Aldworth, Traces Screen Printing
  • To safeguard myself from being part of the problem, I only supply Stanley Stella who have built themselves from the beginning as an ethical business in terms of labor, sourcing, and materials. It is the main thing that matters to me. We have also created our streetwear brand around this idea, and it has been really popular. — Chessie Rosier-Parker, Squeegee and Ink
  • We were aware of the news breaking about the processor they were referring to. I found it refreshing and very telling of Bella+Canvas as a company to address it directly. I give them a lot of respect for doing so. Ethics and sustainability should be of utmost importance to everyone in our industry. — Scott Garnett, King Screen
  • I have not heard that. If it were to be proven I would avoid that manufacturer forever. First, is this true, or just gossip? How is this verified? Ethical sourcing is important, as the supply chain needs to be the best it can be. Is the apparel Fairtrade, SA8000, or GOTS certified? — Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting
  • We believe it is very important to pay attention to sourcing. We should all be paying attention to how our supplier obtains their product. I know we all want the lowest price but not at someone else’s expense. Slavery is never a viable option. — Shaun McCarthy, GL Imprinting
  • Unless there is a source that is verifiable, this is just gossip. Everyone wants to deal in an ethical way, and you would certainly hope this was not the case. — Mark Coudray, Coudray Growth Tech
  • I will be researching this. If there is a report out there confirming this, we will no longer be offering this brand’s apparel options if they are on our list of what we offer. — Joe Ortinau, Ortinau Art
  • Knowing some of the backstory behind this, I think the post was done in poor taste. Not a good look, no matter what the message is. — Eric Solomon, Night Owls
  • Not surprised. Sustainability and forced labor are important and something we’d avoid if we knew better, but the truth is, as decorators, we’re usually so far removed from what’s actually going on at those factories. We’re just not educated enough on what that side of the industry really looks like. In America we have first world problems ,so I don’t think most us truly understand third world problems and the deep implications they have. — Brian Geffen, Duds by Dudes
  • It is very important. But I am a believer that calling out other companies is not the best route to go. They should be touting the improvements they have implemented to improve their social appearance. — Shawn LaFave, North Georgia Promotions
  • I think fair trade and sustainability of blanks are an important part of the printing industry. Our company primarily orders from the major apparel vendors like SanMar and alphabroder, whose corporate responsibility reports are made public. I do believe the bulk of responsibility falls on vendors to make sure their production facilities meet compliance standards. I see a lot of print shops like ours moving toward sustainability in their day-to-day operations, and making more sustainable choices is an important part of achieving longevity in our industry. — Alicia Borromeo, Logowear House

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. screen printing business, you’re invited to join the Screen Printing Brain Squad. Take one five-minute quiz a month, and you could be featured prominently in our magazine or on our website. Make your voice heard on key issues affecting screen printing pros. Sign up here.




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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