The NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights has released a new report, ‘Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg: Bangladesh’s Forgotten Apparel Workers’, which claims that there are more than 7,000 garment factories in Bangladesh producing for the global fashion industry, 65% more than was previously thought.

The researchers note that larger factories are outsourcing to small- and medium-sized factories, which fall outside the protection of the international safety-improvement initiatives.

“Our research shows that indirect sourcing is an essential element of Bangladesh’s low-cost, high-volume model of garment production,” said Sarah Labowitz, co-author of the report and co-director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights and a research scholar at Stern. “Though global brands assert that they have strict policies against unauthorised subcontracting, in reality, millions of workers at thousands of smaller factories are producing their goods. Working in these factories is often highly risky, yet virtually no international resources are being applied to them.”

The report notes that the two factory safety programmes that were created after the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 focus on direct exporters only, which make up just 27% of the factories in the country, meaning nearly three million garment workers are excluded from the two programmes.

“Achieving minimum standards in all factories, including indirect suppliers, will require significant additional financial resources,” Sarah says. “If brands, local manufacturers, governments, international development and financial institutions, and private philanthropy work together and share responsibility for the true costs of a safe and sustainable garment sector, these challenges can be overcome.”