Are Fashion and Ethics Compatible?
In April 2013 over 1100 people lost their lives when a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. It wasn’t the first factory to collapse in Bangladesh. Only six months previously, 112 people lost their lives when the Tazreen factory caught fire.
With London Fashion Week opening on the 14th of February, has the tragedy led to any real change in the fashion industry? And what needs to happen in order for the industry to learn from these tragedies?
In order for fashion to be ethical, attention needs to be paid at every stage of the supply chain – from the cotton farm to the factory. Perhaps encouragingly, Berlin fashion week 2014 (which took place in January) incorporated pledges to improve conditions for both farmers and garment workers. Whilst this is a positive step, ethical fashion still seems somewhat tokenistic. The problem with ethical clothing is that it’s currently a drop in the ocean, or put another way, a fringe event at fashion week.
A4ID’s partner Labour Behind the Label (LBL) believes that garment workers should be paid a living wage and provided with safe working conditions. Samantha Maher, International Solidarity and Policy Co-ordinator of LBL says,
‘In Bangladesh workers have paid the price for the failure of the clothing industry to address serious health and safety problems in their workplaces, it is time for the companies supplying our high streets to take immediate action to ensure that similar tragedies don’t occur in the future’.
Through A4ID’s broker service, LBL were introduced to a law firm who were able to provide legal advice regarding their campaign to highlight the deaths at Tazreen Fashions’ Factory in Bangladesh. LBL required legal advice regarding naming companies who were buying from the factory. LBL are calling for companies who were using the Tazreen Fashions Factory to provide compensation to victims and their families, and to take steps to prevent future tragedies.
A4ID’s Chief Executive Yasmin Batliwala says,
‘The world of fashion is associated with frivolity. Yet behind the scenes countless farmers and factory workers are facing exploitation. A4ID believes that the law can, and should, be used more effectively to protect the rights of vulnerable people. It’s good to hear that LBL have had the confidence to name and shame companies who were buying from Tazreen Fashions Factory, where so many people tragically lost their lives’.
In the Wake of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse, LBL have called on brands and unions to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. An agreement has already been signed to make systematic changes to factories in Bangladesh. Over 90 clothing companies have signed the agreement, which will help improve working conditions in over 1000 factories, which will ultimately save lives.
Samantha Maher says, ‘The Accord is ground breaking in that it is the first multi-stakeholder agreement on improving standards that is legally binding. This means that neither the brands nor the unions can simply walk away once the glare of the spotlight that was once on them immediately following Rana Plaza fades away’.
Whilst the fashion industry undoubtedly has a long way to go in terms of making fashion ethical: organisations like LBL are affecting change in the industry. There’s an appetite for talking about what needs to change in the industry during London Fashion Week. And you can join the debate. The 13th of February marks the launch of ‘Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion’. The launch is open to the public and will include debates around exploitation, gender and race in the fashion industry, with speakers Katharine Hamnett and Susie Orbach. On Thursday 13th February there will be a fashion fundraiser by the London Legal Support Trust at the Royal Courts of Justice.