Modern slavery: How we're tackling exploitation within India's garment supply chains

UOB India Insitute news-1

A major project aimed at tackling modern slavery within India’s garment exporting industry is well underway. The programme involves four different universities, including the University of Birmingham.

According to The British Academy, many of the world’s 45 million people who are enslaved in the world, and the 75 million children who are employed in hazardous working conditions, can be found within global supply chains. 

Vivek Soundararajan, our Assistant Professor of Strategy and International Business, is one of several university ambassadors to have been selected to help deliver the Combatting Modern Slavery Through Business Leadership at the Bottom of the Supply Chain programme. 

Over the years, Vivek has contributed to several published research papers that are all of relevance to the current programme. They include Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing CountriesVoluntary governance mechanisms in global supply chains:  Beyond CSR to a stakeholder utility perspective, and Beyond brokering: Sourcing agents, boundary work and working conditions in global supply chains.  

Funded by The British Academy and the Department for International Development (DfID) and run in association with the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business the pioneering project is aimed at exploring the challenges and implications of modern slavery within India’s supply chains. 


The programme will analyse innovative initiatives that are currently taking place to combat modern slavery within the garment industry in Tamil Nadu. The South Indian state is a major export region for many of the products that are destined for the UK’s high streets. 

“Social auditing is one of the main tools that’s used by global brands to address exploitation within global supply chains, yet its effectiveness in tackling modern slavery has been very limited so far. 

“This is because slavery tends to flourish within informal business activities that lie at the bottom of the supply chain. In order to tackle this issue, changes need to be made at this level and incentives need to be put in place for local business leaders to make them,” explains Vivek. 


The programme is designed to help develop a better understanding of the role of local communities in creating a responsible and just market. It will also focus on the shortcomings that exist within the current interventions that are aimed at empowering vulnerable workers. Ways of redesigning these interventions so that they are more effective on a local level will also be explored. 

Vivek added: “This project will enable us to identify the key drivers and barriers associated with the innovative initiatives that currently exist and evaluate their effectiveness in combatting exploitation. 

“We’re planning to share our findings with policymakers, businesses, NGOs and the wider public, as well as contribute to the UK Government’s on-going efforts to abolish modern slavery within UK supply chains.” 

The 18-month programme, which started in November last year, is being led by Professor Andrew Crane from the University of Bath. The other co-investigators working alongside Vivek are Laura Spence from the Royal Holloway, University of London, Genevieve LeBaron from the University of Sheffield and Michael Bloomfield, also from the University of Bath. 

An advisory group has been formed, which is made up of academics, businesses, civil society and policy experts from both the UK and India. Four research support staff have also been appointed in India to work on the project, a move that’s designed to help ensure the programme’s success and connection to the local communities. 

For more information about the project and to see how Vivek’s and his fellow co-investigators’ work is developing, follow @UOB_India or @Vivek_Soundar on Twitter, and connect with uob_india on LinkedIn.