Thursday, January 30, 2014

Transition - Universities' Green Week 2014

It still feels sort of futuristic writing 2014. People and Planet, the university environmental campaigning group are soon to inspire a nationwide Green Week with talks, events and exhibitions. This year's theme is transition: Meat-free Monday, Travel-lite Tuesday etc. I think transition is the perfect way to describe what needs to happen. We need to steadily change our behaviours, rather than go on sudden CO2 diets and having to "give up" at the first non-veg piece of candy. I am personally extremely vary of making my vegetarian diet a prison - if there's meat and it looks and smells delicious I'll have a taste. I probably end up eating sushi once a month. I definitely have meat every time I visit friend's family back home (how can I ask people to use pans and oven to make a single serving?). I want to do it this way - my way - because I know I'd fall through and 'fail' at being veggie. It's not a cleanse - it's really an easy lifestyle change that everyone can make with a little creativity in the kitchen. My transition must go one way only, that's the danger.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Dawkins, C. (2012) Laboured Relations

"Employers are free to lawfully operate an enterprise
and the poor and unskilled workers are (generally) free to exit the circumstance by
quitting. However, the choice between deplorable work conditions or economic
destitution does not constitute real freedom or liberty."

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Trouble with Second-Hand Clothes

The Trouble with Second-Hand Clothing

This is a really good article from the Business of Fashion today. We really need to understand just how little clothes is re-sold by Oxfam in the UK, versus how much is sold to Africa. The book 'Salaula' by Karen Tranberg Hansen found that the donation of clothing isn't necessarily only a charitable action. There are evidince to argue that the development of an African apparel industry has been stalled because cheap second-hand clothing is so readily available. This then leads to the problems that TK Maxx for instance face in their CSR department in preparation for Red Nose Day: they have African organically grown cotton available, but can't find a supplier to produce the t-shirts. and SOKO also have issues sourcing fashionable garments for their ASOS Africa collection and have had to import fabrics to Uganda (Boodhna & Buxton 2013 [PDF]).

So if you want to donate your unwanted clothing consider why you need to get rid of it? Is it a mistake buy? Did you really use it until it was unwearable and why can't you mend it? Would others find it useful or should it go to the landfill? You should really try to keep your clothes in use - eBay, clothes-swaps and hand-me-downs are the ultimate ways to empty out your wardrobe. You should always try to mend and decorate your clothing so it stays alive and fresh in your mind so you'll keep wearing and cherish it. I find that the longer I try to keep clothes for longer the more I learn about which stitches last and what fabrics work and which just dishevel after a day. I personally find polyester super uncomfortable, but according to research from WRAP polyester fabrics and blends last longer and are therefore more sustainable than natural fibres (WRAP 2013).

So, buy less, mend more and friends before donations!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What has the Rana Plaza collaps taught us?

When the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed on April 24 media attention was finally drawn to the horrible working conditions of the garment industry. The knowledge is spreading with headlines in the major newspapers and finally friends of mine who have never considered where their clothes from, sign the Change petition and some ask me what they can do. The attention to the long-standing problem is great and we need to create momentum now that we have the attention of the media.

Some of the most disturbing factors surrounding the incident is that the entire first floor which functioned as a shopping mall was evacuated the day before. The risk was evidently known by the factory owners, but a pressing order was in production and the deadline had to be met. Furthermore, two of the factories in the complex were certified by BSCI and one by SA8000. BSCI is not a very well-known certification, but it covers working conditions and worker's rights. They both certify against child labour, forced labour and a legal minimum wage. Therefore they use the argument that their certifications are not designed to cover building integrity, however, when two days before the building was condemned unsafe, the factory owners forced the workers to continue working with the threat that by leaving they would give up their wage for the month.

Now comes the big question, what have we learnt from this and what will we do to prevent such disasters from happening again? Many are calling for industry leaders to make suggestions, including BSCI and EFF. The Accord on Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety is a great answer to this question. All certifications up until now are privately held, this one is legally binding. Adding to that it makes it a requirement that brands make their audit reports publicly available. This is a ground-breaking idea which would set Bangladesh apart from any other country. The garment industry is audited time and time again, several times a year by every company that they supply, but the heaps of information is kept secretly in the databases of the companies and their auditors. What if a company was legally bound to act upon or report unsafe working environments to the local authorities? What if the information gathered could be looked over by the National Garment Workers Federation?

Firoz Ahmed: the National Garment Workers Federation campaigns for safer work environments.

The things to take with us from such a disaster is that auditors close their eyes to the real dangers. The factory owners and the powerful buyers with the pressing orders are the decision makers in instances like this. It is crucial to doubt certifications, even the ones we love - like fairtrade and organic certifications of coffee and cotton. Shirahime is a new blog that I have just found, who in this blogpost shares some gruelling facts about the certification system. We need to make a paradigm shift away from private for-profit certification systems whose auditors are paid for by the authority itself and change our perception of the problem.

The issue is just as much the issue of ourselves and our governments as it is a problem for Bangladesh/China/Vietnam/India/etc. By trading with these countries we move problems of labour safety away from our own country and into the world marketplace. The globalised world marketplace becomes our territory.

We need to make a revolution in the mindset of the entire supply chain of the fashion industry. Not only the CSR board need to understand the importance of fire safety, working conditions and living wage. The buyers, merchandisers, factory owners, factory production managers and the supervisors of the seamstresses need to understand that foreign money should raise the bar for pay, working conditions and thereby the living standards of everyone implemented. Their own governments encourage and lobby for these investments under the hope that the country's economy will improve and poverty decrease. But if the money stays with the rich that just won't happen.

Read more of the Clean Clothing Campaign's extensive coverage here and sign their petition to urge brands who source in Bangladesh to sign the Fire and Safety Agreement and make the brands who placed orders with the factories involved compensate for their loss.