It’s estimated that 40.3 million people are enslaved today (1), many of whom work to make the clothes we wear, with fashion being one of the top five exploitive industries in the world (2). In their recent Stacked Odds report, Walk Free reported that one in every 130 females globally is living in modern slavery (3).

As if these figures weren’t shocking enough, modern slavery also has a connection to environmental degradation and climate change. According to Professor Kevin Bales of The Rights Lab, Nottingham University, “Crimes like illegal slave-based deforestation and brick making have such a large environmental impact, that if slavery were a country it would be the third largest emitter of CO2 in the world after China and the USA. (4)” As you may imagine, modern slavery also has a severe economic impact on not just individuals, but whole communities and nations.                                        

At MAEKA, we believe that by disrupting the conventional ways of doing business, and by working collaboratively, not competitively, as an industry, we can create a world where fashion can be used as a force for good. 

We have spent almost 10 years developing our revolutionary business model, designed to support people out of modern slavery and vulnerability, and we know by hearing the stories of our seamstresses that employment with MAEKA is truly transformational in the lives of our staff. But what is the true scope of this impact on individuals and the wider community?

Today, in partnership with The Rights Lab, Nottingham University, we are proud to release The Social Progress and Responsible Business Practice Report: a world-first study on MAEKA’s Cut and Sew Facility in Cambodia designed to put our business model to the test.

What was found? The MAEKA employment model creates a Freedom Dividend in the communities to which our staff belong. 

Bales describes a Freedom Dividend as, “the idea that where slavery is suppressed, the economy grows. When freedom comes to formerly enslaved people, and includes the enjoyment of human rights, learning and training for job skills, access to medical and psychological care, something almost miraculous happens: a Freedom Dividend enjoyed by the whole society. This benefit spreads widely, increasing life satisfaction, economic attainment, and education levels, reducing health problems and improving lives along many other measures.”

On an individual level, the study found measurable positive change in education, health, housing, socio-economic standing and feelings of ambition, hope and empowerment. Participants reported a low debt load, higher saving frequency, ambitions for their children, feelings of empowerment and detailed plans for the future. 

One MAEKA team member and participant in the study said, “In the next five years my life will be better because I have a plan! I want a piece of land; I want to have my own house! I have the ability to save right now, I have no loans.”

The Freedom Dividend rewards everyone that invests in it, and in releasing this report, we hope to further encourage businesses in all industries to identify risks of modern slavery in their supply chains, and encourage governments to prioritise legislation that supports the eradication of modern slavery. 

To view and read the full report online, click here.

Or, click here to listen to MAEKA founding CEO James Bartle, Professor Kevin Bales, and Baroness Lola Young’s discussion on the report and fashion as a force for good, recorded from CFS+, 2020.

  4. Bales, K. Blood and Earth: Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World, Speigel&Grau (Penguin: Random House) 2016
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