I have a dream, that one day I will be able to go shopping and confidently choose beautiful products, made to last, knowing that the workers have been paid a living wage, that there hasn’t been any slave or child labour involved and no one is working in fear or in unsafe conditions like those that caused the factory collapses in Bangladesh or the fire last week. I dream that I will be confident that someone else’s rivers and soil have not been contaminated, their air will still be safe to breathe and the bees will also be flourishing.
We don’t often think about the true cost of the stuff we buy. It’s usually the last thing on our minds when we are trawling through the shops searching for the perfect present for our spouse or hunting last minute for just the right dress for a friend’s wedding.
I have often visited farmers and factory workers in India and Africa and it is humbling to see the conditions they live and work in. Unfortunately, regulation in poorer parts of the world is significantly lacking. Giles Bolton, Tesco’s responsible sourcing director, recently said “All businesses around the world have some form of slave labour in their supply chains but companies can find ways to eradicate this abuse”
I applaud his honesty as it is only when we as consumers recognise the true situation that companies can work openly to eradicate it and explain the trade-offs they face in their quest to bring us ever cheaper products.
Across the world there are estimated to be 168 million child labourers. Many of these are working in our supply chains, whether it’s mining the precious metals in our phones, sewing our clothes or growing the cocoa in our chocolate. There are pockets of hope, particularly in the food sector, with schemes such as Fairtrade and leading companies like IKEA, Kingfisher/B&Q and Marks & Spencer taking action.
Legislation here in the UK does not currently hold companies to account for what happens in their supply chains outside the UK. Put simply there is not a level global playing field and that makes it hard for a business with an ethical conscience to compete.
And this is where campaigning can play a pivotal role. If our politicians and retailers do not know that we care about the people who make our stuff then it will not be a priority to change the law to protect them. So if you have never supported a campaign before can I suggest some simple starting points:
1) Be curious!
Be curious and investigate the issues. Decide which ones are most important to you.
- Join the Fashion Revolution and ask “Who Made my Clothes?” Look out for events during Fashion Revolution Week 18th-24th April 2016
- If you enjoy films and are interested in the fashion industry why not watch the “True Cost Movie” produced by Livia Firth or read this interview with her.
- Sign up to newsletters from the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) which works with companies, trade unions and NGOs to promote respect for workers rights around the world
- Labour behind the Label have creative ways to explore the issues. For example students can re-create their own sweatshop for a day with money raised from sales supporting their work.
2) Be active!
The Clean Clothes Campaign is a good place to start with its campaign to support living wages in the garment industry. They also have great resources to help us find out more.
Traidcraft is a fantastic organisation which both works with producers to bring us great fairly traded products and also campaigns strategically on our behalf. For example their Justice Campaign works to hold UK companies to account for failures in their supply chains abroad, which is essential if we want to choose products with confidence.
And for those who would like an environmental campaign to get started with, few things can be more important to our food security than saving our bees! Check out Friends of the Earth “The Bee Cause”
3) Be inspired
For some seriously sustainable luxury fashion check out the participants in Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge – this gorgeous red dress is made from recycled plastic bottles!
or Michael Fassbender’s Red Carpet tuxedo at the Golden Globe awards recently.
There are some amazing people behind brands which have really inspired me – for example Yvon Chouinard who founded the outdoor wear company Patagonia, who strive to produce beautiful sustainable clothing that will last. Patagonia once took out a full page advert in the New York Times that said “Don’t Buy This Jacket” and Yvon told his customers not to buy new jackets but repair their old ones!
Another inspiring company is PeopleTree and you can find out more about the people who make their clothes or grow their cotton and wool on their website
When I read their stories I am inspired to believe that my dream may one day come true. And in my next blog I will be interviewing someone who has been working over a decade to do just that!