Supply Chain Characteristics that Impact Traceability

Traceability Takeaways

  • Textile production includes multiple manufacturing and transformation nodes, such as fabric printing and dyeing; cutting, sewing, and trimming; finishing; and embellishing. The risk of labor abuse can be present at any of these nodes. In addition, textile production often utilizes multiple natural and synthetic inputs or raw materials, including cotton and yarn/thread, which have their own risk of labor abuses in production.  Robust traceability systems in the textile industry should be capable of providing insight into both the production of raw material inputs or components and mid-tier and downstream final assembly and manufacturing, as each tier has its own risk of labor abuses.  
  • The frequent occurrence of subcontracting, including unauthorized subcontracting to informal and/or home-based facilities, engenders opacity in global textile supply chains. Given the vulnerability of workers in these settings to forced and child labor, traceability systems should build visibility into subcontracting processes, including through methods for complementary assurance, and should account for these workers in subsequent due diligence efforts.  

Nature of Labor Rights Risk/Vulnerable Workers

Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by U.S. Government

Child Labor cited by U.S. Government

Risk of Forced Labor or Trafficking in Persons cited by other source

Risk of Child Labor cited by other source

Documented presence of migrant workers

Documented presence of other vulnerable workers

Documented presence or significant likelihood of third-party labor recruiters

Features of Production and Supply Chain

Large numbers of dispersed, unorganized, or informal small producers or other worksites

Multiple points of aggregation, co-mingling, and/or transformation across supply chain

Complex/opaque supply chains and/or lack of vertical integration

High degree of flexibility in procurement practices of downstream entities

  • The “fast fashion” demand structure for finished garment goods incentivizes the quick production of large quantities of garments at low costs. Long-term retail-manufacturing relationships are rare; garment corporations may maintain decentralized procurement relationships with hundreds of small-scale textile suppliers at a time. Textile manufacturers themselves subcontract to smaller producers, outsourcing specific tasks such as embroidery, and may not always be transparent about their subcontracted relationships. Although a large brand may deal with a certain manufacturer, this supplier may itself maintain unmonitored horizontal relationships.

    Subcontracting relationships also extend into the informal economy, with small or home-based workshops contributing to the stream of a large company’s production. Insulated from corporate and legal audits, child and forced labor – often in the form of non- or insufficient renumeration – can persist.12aton, Elizabeth. “A Close Look at a Fashion Supply Chain is Not Pretty.” The New York Times, 28 Jul. 2020, This further limits the visibility of the full supply chain.
  • Many raw materials can funnel into the fiber production stage (spinning, weaving, and knitting) of textile production, including both synthetic and natural fibers. Because of these complex streams, most textile products contain an aggregation of both natural and synthetic fibers from several different sources.13Paton, Elizabeth. “A Close Look at a Fashion Supply Chain is Not Pretty.” The New York Times, 28 Jul. 2020,
  • There is a high degree of flexibility in the procurement practices of brands and garment manufacturers purchasing textiles. Volatile supplier-buyer and supplier-supplier relationships translate to unstable employment contracts.14Paton, Elizabeth. “A Close Look at a Fashion Supply Chain is Not Pretty.” The New York Times, 28 Jul. 2020, The demand for flexibility, low labor costs, and short lead times for new product designs contribute to labor risk and make it more difficult to account for all the labor inputs within the value chain.15 ”Sustainability and Circularity in the Global Textile Value Chain: Global Stocktaking.” United Nations Environment Programme, 2020, 

Distribution of Labor Risk in Various Production Areas

Scale or nature of risk is strongly associated with certain types of suppliers/entities

Scale or nature of risk is present across multiple tiers or nodes of supply chain (including in associated downstream or upstream goods)

Scale or nature of risk varies significantly based on geographic area of production

  • The risks of forced labor and child labor in the textile sector are found in many countries.
  • Child labor is especially widespread in the upstream stages of textile production, rather than at the final Tier 1 stage of production. These upstream stages may include cotton seed picking, spinning, weaving, and dyeing.16Moulds, Josephine. “Child Labour in the Fashion Supply Chain: Where, Why, and What Can Be Done.” The Guardian,  The risks of child labor are also associated with informal and home-based worksites, which are often present in the supply chain due to subcontracting.17SOMO. Fact Sheet: Child labour in the textile & garment industry, March 2014,  
  • Upstream activities, which are less likely to be captured by current traceability efforts, often have the highest risk of child and forced labor.18Sustainability and Circularity in the Global Textile Value Chain: Global Stocktaking.” United Nations Environment Programme, 2020, 

Linked Upstream and Downstream Risks

Risk in Nodes in Textiles Production

The textile supply chain is heavily fragmented; multiple globally dispersed production nodes may contribute to the full value chain of a finished good.19“Sustainability and Circularity in the Global Textile Value Chain: Global Stocktaking.” United Nations Environment Programme, 2020,  Many streams of fiber production––including cotton cultivation or the creation of synthetic fibers like polyester––funnel into fiber preparation processes, such as spinning and weaving. In turn, many types of finished fiber materials are used in textile production. Textile production often involves large global retailers subcontracting labor to independent, small-scale manufacturers in order to meet production targets on finished garments.20Zoltkowski, Ania. “What on Earth is a Clothing Supply Chain?” Good on You, 22 Jan. 2022, The textile production process itself may contain multiple layers of subcontracting relationships between manufacturers.21Van Klaveren, Maarten, and Kea Tijdens. “Mapping the Global Garment Supply Chain.”, Aug 2018,   Labor risks have been noted across all nodes of textile production.

Fiber production (including cultivation and synthetic manufacturing)

Fiber preparation and processing (including ginning and spinning)

Textile production (weaving, knitting, bonding, dyeing, and finishing)

Sale and distribution

Associated Upstream Goods with Labor Risk

Cotton, is one of the most widely utilized types of natural fiber. The cultivation and harvest of cotton have been associated with risk of forced and child labor.

Other upstream goods with documented labor risks associated with textile production include silk cocoons, silk fabric, silk thread, and thread and yarn.

Associated Downstream Goods and Consumer Sectors

Textiles Apparel and Luxury Goods

Textiles are used in the production of garments and embellished textiles, which are used for other finished products such as clothing and accessories.


Textiles can also be used for technical or industrial purposes, such as protective clothing or chemical resistant linings, PPE, conveyor belts, ropes, nets, vests, bags, tents, and other uses.

Household Goods

Textiles are used in the production of towels, linens, curtains, carpets, and other decorative household items. These items are also used extensively in the Hospitality Sector.

Top Global Countries

  1. China22List of exporters for the selected product in 202. Product: 60 Knitted or crocheted fabrics. .
  2. Taiwan
  3. South Korea
  4. Turkey
  5. Vietnam
  6. Italy
  7. United States of America
  8. Germany
  9. India
  10. Japan

Examples & Resources: Traceability Efforts Associated With Textiles