To what extent can the Accord be considered a ‘Game-Changer’? [Essay]

On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1100 garment workers, and injuring around 2500. This shocked the world, as the public demanded a change to the working conditions that created this disaster. Indeed, attempts had previously been made to create an agreement to ensure effective health and safety standards, however it was this horrifying event, and increased consumer pressure, that sped up the process, resulting in the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2013).

The Accord is “a five year independent, legally binding agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions designed to build a safe and healthy Bangladeshi Ready Made Garment (RMG) Industry” (The Accord, 2017). Many say the agreement is a ‘game-changer’ (Hensler & Blasi, 2013), due to unique features not typically seen in corporate social responsibility (CSR) agreements. However, others argue that it is not game changing, as it fails to address the root issues creating poor working conditions. As we prepare for the renewal of the Bangladesh Accord this May, I delve into both arguments.

 

The Accord is a Game Changer

When brands sign the agreement, they are legally bound to it. This means they must fund inspections and factory repairs, and are responsible for any hazardous factories and their workers (Leibson, 2015). This is ‘game-changing’, as CSR programmes are typically voluntary, with little negative repercussions for brands, so brands feels less obliged to comply with rules (Donaghey & Reinecke, 2017). For example, a comparison is often drawn between the Accord and The Alliance, a CSR-based agreement also drawn up after the Rana Plaza collapse. One report found that despite the Alliance having inspected more factories, fewer factories were closed down (Greenhouse & Harris, 2014). This suggests that potential hazards in these factories were not addressed, demonstrating a lack of compulsion among the signatories to act upon findings.

The Accord also ensures factory inspection results are made public, putting pressure on companies to ensure the safety of their workers, in fear of their reputation being tarnished (Rahman, 2014). Inspections are conducted independently, ensuring brands have no influence over results, which can lead to fundamental issues being hidden by brands. Indeed, last year, Nike attempted to prevent independent inspections in one of their factories, where workers had gone on strike (Jamieson, 2017). Attempts such as these to keep the conditions of workers silent through self-regulated inspections would not take place under the Accord. Moreover, when reviewing reports covering 175 factories covered by both the Accord and the Alliance, while the Accord reports indicated more than half of these factories had not adequately improved, with details describing each situation, the Alliance had marked them ambiguously as ‘on track’, with no further insight (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2016). This ambiguity makes it difficult for the public to know exactly what the conditions of these factories are, allowing brands to hide poor working conditions without fear of being penalised.

There is also a large emphasis on worker empowerment (Donaghey and Reinecke, 2017). For example, Bangladeshi unions were at the forefront of negotiations from the beginning, and form 50% of the core decision-making committee. Many global trade unions argue that previous CSR initiatives failed, due to the exclusion of workers, and that through inclusion, this has created a balance of interests between workers and brands. Indeed, Donahey and Reinecke (2017) found that in important discussions, unions brought up crucial points, including brand responsibility in financing factory remediation and compensation, and raised workers’ complaints. These points, particularly workers’ concerns, may not have been heard without the presences of trade unions. Indeed, Ozkazanc (2018) stresses the importance of subaltern agency, that is, allowing workers to make decisions that influence their lives, as opposed to being silenced and subjugated to Western ideals of how their working conditions should be.

Therefore, in comparison to CSR practices, through increased engagement with workers, transparency, and brands being compelled to act, this agreement could be considered a game-changer.

 

It is not a game changer

However, it is argued that this is not the case. Indeed, Scheper (2017) argues the Accord does not address the system that allows poor working conditions to exist in the first place, that is, the exploitation of workers in the Global South by corporations in the West for profits (i.e. supply-chain capitalism). He argues that the Accord acts on the basis of this system, further perpetuating the economic power relation between the brand and workers, as brands continue to hold a high stake in how workers’ lives are improved.

Similarly, Ozkazanc (2018) argues the Accord creates a relationship with workers similar to that of CSR agreements, as it continues the “gendered neocolonial relations” that perpetuate poor conditions. This refers to the idea that relations between brands in the Global North and workers in the South via approaches including the Accord are a means through which the North can maintain exploitative relationships, first introduced when the British invaded these countries. In creating a subordinated relationship, where developing countries depend on the North for economic growth, this justifies their entrance into these countries, allowing them to exploit pre-existing gender oppression to extract profit; hiring women on low wages and under exploitative conditions. Thus, by allowing brands to sign up to such agreements, while simultaneously allowing them to maintain these exploitative relations, this could be considered far from a game-changer.

In conclusion, it is clear that the Accord has demonstrated its uniqueness, in that it includes workers, as well as legally compels brands to act. While this has resulted in significant changes that will undoubtedly protect lives, overall, the agreement appears to act as a band-aid to the garment industry. It aims to improve lives without addressing the system that is perpetuating these problems, embedding itself within capitalism and neocolonial relations. As the new Accord is on its way, those involved should address these core issues and how we can dismantle them, so agreements such as the Accord should never have to exist.

[note: I only had 1000 words for this essay, so couldn’t completely elaborate my opinion. I support the Accord, but we also need to look to find ways to address the systematic issues of exploitation]

References:

Brown, H. (23 January 2018) Bangladesh textiles union settles $2.3m safety case, Drapers.

Clean Clothes Campaign & Maquila Solidarity Network. (2013) The History behind the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord. Available from: https://cleanclothes.org/resources/background/history-bangladesh-safety-accord/view [Accessed 20 February 2018]

Clean Clothes Campaign (21 November 2016). Alliance for Bangladesh worker safety overstates Progress while workers’ lives remain at risk. Available from https://cleanclothes.org/news/2016/11/21/alliance-for-bangladesh-worker-safety-overstates-progress-while-workers-lives-remain-at-risk [Accessed 20 Februray 2018]

Donaghey, J. and Reinecke, J. (2017). When Industrial Democracy Meets Corporate Social Responsibility—A Comparison of the Bangladesh Accord and Alliance as Responses to the Rana Plaza Disaster. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 56(1), pp. 14-42.

Greenhouse, S. & Harris, E. A. (21 April 2014). Battling for a Safer Bangladesh. The New York Times.

Hensler, B. & Blasi, J. (2013). Making Global Corporations’ Labor Rights Commitments Legally Enforceable: The Bangladesh Breakthrough. Workers Right Consortium.

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. (2017) About the Accord. Available from: http://bangladeshaccord.org/ [Accessed 20 February 2018]

The Daily Star (22 December 2017) 75pc women garment workers face verbal abuse: study. Avaiable from: http://www.thedailystar.net/business/column/75pc-women-garment-workers-face-verbal-abuse-study-1508695 [Accessed 21 February 2018]

Leibson, S. (2015). Lessons from Bangladesh. Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, pp. 74-75.

Ozkazanc-Pan, B. (2018). CSR as Gendered Neocoloniality in the Global South. Journal of Business Ethics, pp.1-14.

Rahman, M.Z. (2014). Accord on” Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh”: A Breakthrough Agreement?. Nordic journal of working life studies, 4(1), p.69-74.

 

 

 

Fashion Factfiles #4: WHERE DO YOUR DONATED CLOTHES REALLY GO?

Hey guys, another Fashion Factfiles post! This month, I’m changing it up a bit.

Alright don’t get too excited.

Lol but yeh, this month we won’t be looking at serious issues within the production of garments themselves, but rather what happens to much of our clothing once we’re done with them and have donated it to charity.

Oh you thought they’d all be sold and bought by people to reuse?

Not exactly.

Welcome to another episode of: Calling out the West and its neo-colonial practices!

Continue reading “Fashion Factfiles #4: WHERE DO YOUR DONATED CLOTHES REALLY GO?”

Why I stopped advocating Fairtrade

Hey guys!

So it’s the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight, and what better way to celebrate than with a blog on why Fairtrade ISN’T that great yayayayyy!

See the source image

Ngl, I really hate raining on people’s parade; I know how it feels being so passionate about Fairtrade, it’s purpose, how you’re changing people’s lives etc. Believe me, your girl was part of her borough’s Fairtrade group and used to go round selling Fairtrade Palestinian dates (they bang). However, to then be presented with a lot of fundamental issues revolving Fairtrade, how can I, as someone who wants to do right to workers around the world, ignore this and continue campaigning just to feel that satisfaction of doing ‘something’, regardless of whether it was effective?

By now I’m sure the ethical scene think I’m trolling them lol but honestly, I hope most of you will understand why I’m eager to address why Fairtrade presenting themselves as a solution to poverty reduction is problematic.

Anyways, I’m gonna end that monologue, and get straight into it. LEGGOOOO.


Conditions in Fairtrade farms ain’t that fair tbh

See the source image

Professor Christopher Cramer from SOAS university conducted research evaluating the impact Fairtrade has had on its producers in Uganda and Ethiopia to find some shocking results. 

So Fairtrade emphasise how we as consumers can help small-holder producers (farmers with small farms) out of poverty by increasing their income from crop production. However, Fairtrade tend to paint all small-holder producers with the same, romanticised brush (that’s the phrase right?), ignoring the fact that all farmers and their holdings are different, with different conditions, characteristics etc. (standard Western approach to the Global South). 

For example, some small-holder producers actually operate on land at least 20x larger than others, and even employ many workers. This goes against the stereotypical Fairtrade, romanticised image of a small-holder farmer working hard producing with his family on a small farm right? In fact, these capitalist farmers, with hired labour and particular farming methods, dominate production, and receive a lot of aid and support, due to their ability to produce more.

Farmers are part of a cooperative (association owned and run jointly by its members) where benefits and profits from Fairtrade should be shared equally. However, in reality, it is the small group of large producers just mentioned who usually occupy leading roles in the cooperatives, controlling distribution of resources. Instead of incorporating the poor, these cooperatives encourage elitism, with power at the top. And yes, they are usually men.

Another thing. You may be aware that Fairtrade adds a premium onto the price of their products, which is meant to be invested into development projects, to be decided democratically by producers or workers. However, these premiums usually go towards investments that benefit the largest producers and sellers. Several shocking examples are mentioned. In one case, the premium was used to build a health clinic, but only those who were employed permanently could use it, excluding many of the poor people living nearby who were hired temporarily (e.g. seasonal workers), and were required to pay a fee they could not afford. 

“James, is desperately poor and lives with his elderly father in an inadequate shack close to the tea factory. Although his father was once a temporary worker at the tea factory, James is charged fees at the tea factory’s Fairtrade health clinic. He cannot afford them and instead, although he only has one leg, he hobbles more than 5km to receive free treatment at a government clinic.”

In another case, flush toilets made with premiums could only be used by senior management. 

One finding that is particularly shocking, is the fact that workers in non-Fairtrade farms were actually getting better wages, and treatment, than those producing the same products in Fairtrade farms. For example, female workers in Fairtrade sites were paid 70% of the daily wage earned by those in non-Fairtrade sites, and were offered fewer days of employment. In addition, in Ethiopian farms, only 1% of those working in Fairtrade sites received payments for medical care compared to 11% in other sites and 56% in large-scale state farms. 

There are also reports of poor monitoring of conditions in the farms, allowing these practices to continue. In the only Fairtrade certified estate in Ethiopia, workers’ rights were ignored and management were able to avoid the half-hearted attempts of Fairtrade executives to promote the employees’ interests.

So considering Fairtrade’s passion for poverty reduction, you’d think they would be extremely concerned and grateful for such a report highlighting these alarming findings. APPARENTLY NOT.

Yeh, Fairtrade were pissed. They were extremely defensive, attempted a smear campaign against the researchers, even making a legal threat against them and sending hostile letters. 

SMH.

It continues a relationship of dependency 

Related image

Agro-ecology is a new means of production on farms, applauded by many. It refers to the transition of farming methods from those that focus on producing food to export (send to other countries i.e. the West) using fossil-fuelled methods, to those that encourage production for personal consumption and the local market via more sustainable practices e.g. recycling nutrients. By using such methods and by producing for local consumption and local markets, this reduces farmers’ reliance on external inputs (e.g. fertilisers) and income (e.g. producing solely to make income by exporting produce to the West). Indeed, by producing in a way that allows farmers to actually consume their own produce as well as sell it in their local markets and export, this reduces their dependency on Western markets to help them survive. Fairtrade relies on farmers producing for export purposes, and does little to support farmers in reducing their dependency on the West, in particular, prioritising food sovereignty (the right of people to produce, distribute and consume healthy food in and near their territory in a sustainable manner). Instead, it relies on the very export-production system that encourages dependency, and denies farmers the right to expand beyond small-scale production for Western consumers.

I mean, imagine the abundance of food produced in the Global South, yet the very farmers producing these crops are impoverished and malnourished. Does that not sound ridiculous to you?

Colonial roots

 

Image result for fairtrade parliament

 In Ian Hussey’s anti-capitalist critique of Fairtrade, he argues that Fairtrade marketing reinforces colonial distinctions between the poor Global South farmer and benevolent Global North consumer, failing to address the structures that produce the impoverished state of farmers in the first place. 

He explains that the distribution of power in fair trade is similar to colonial divisions of the globe, with Fairtrade’s focus on former colonies, to be sold in mainstream markets, where decision-making is concentrated. In 2011, 19 of the 24 members that composed Fairtrade International were based in the Global North, with producers having little say in policies, structure and direction of the Fairtrade movement. By producing a system to ‘save’ workers, where most of the decisions are made by the Global North with little say from the very workers its supposed to save, there is literally a red alarm going off screaming neo-colonialism (control of less-developed countries by developed countries through indirect means). 

Fairtrade, therefore, cannot be a means to end poverty, because it continues the global power imbalance of workers in the Global South as dependent on the global North, and most importantly maintains this dependency through perpetuating these divisions, allowing and justifying further control from the North.

Supports the richest

Image result for greed mr krabs

So lets not deny that the West benefit more from profits made by Fairtrade. Fairtrade is a multi-billion pound business with executives in the UK earning around 500 times the annual amount earned by the workers who produce its commodities. Most of its expenditure goes towards public education and awareness, with its branding and advertising contracted out to a company with clients including Nike and Coca-Cola. The company is loaded. In 2008, with an income of £7.2m, more than £2.1m went on public education and awareness. 

Moreover, while advertisements tend to focus on African and Asian farmers being ‘liberated’ by Fairtrade, the truth is, most of their business is done with Latin America. This is not to undermine Latin America and its troubles, but Ndongo Samba Sylla argues that by favouring Latin America, Fairtrade are favouring richer producers at the expense of the poorest. She argues that since Fairtrade aims to help those already on its ‘path’, the poorer countries it advocates are often neglected as a result. In doing so, Fairtrade is serving and trading with the rich, supporting wealthy farmers at the expense of poorer countries.

Let’s not forget the costs of membership, which entail the cost of certification, annual inspections and compliance with Fairtrade organisational structures. In one cooperative, an executive admitted that after paying for the cooperatives employees and programmes, there was nothing left for individual farmers.

2 Conclude

Image result for fairtrade poverty

For me, the problem with Fairtrade is the fact that it acts as a means to reduce poverty and implies that we as individuals can be part of that change through our consumer actions. While we can probably make lives a bit better, once again we are drawn into the neoliberal ideology that we as individuals and our individual actions are responsible for the worlds problems, taking our attention away from the systematic issues of capitalism and dependency that perpetuate the exploitation of workers.  While workers are often the face of the movement, the research above shows the reality of Fairtrade for many workers, and the response from Fairtrade makes clear their corporate mindset and attitude towards workers as labourers for profit than humans. Indeed, through alternative methods such as agro-ecology, this emphasises the importance of workers sustaining themselves and reducing dependence on the West for survival, which would create a more long-term impact on the lives of workers as opposed to Fairtrade.. 

Most importantly, I want us to change our stance towards Fairtrade as the means by which we will achieve justice, review the colonial connotations of movements that try to ‘save’ workers without acknowledging the agency of workers themselves and their rights, and the need to go beyond dependency on the West. This isn’t an attack on anyone. This is an attack on the system that is allowing such rhetoric to blind us from the structural problems that continue the extraction of commodities at the expense of workers’ rights, in the name of ‘philanthropy’.

 

Resources:

 

Cramer, C. et al (2017). Fairtrade cooperatives in Ethiopia and Uganda: Uncensored. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03056244.2014.976192?journalCode=crea20

Cramer, C. et al (2017). Fairtrade and Labour Markets in Ethiopia and Uganda. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00220388.2016.1208175?needAccess=true

Altieri, M. A. & Toledo, V. C. (2011). The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2011.582947

www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/fairtrade-has-thrown-its-toys-out-of-its-cot/15250#.Wpnra0xFzIU

https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/fair-trade-and-empire

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/05/fairtrade-unjust-movement-serves-rich

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/12/fair-trade-fairtrade-kitkat-farmers

Fashion Factfiles #3: The Sumangali System

Hey guys, happy February and welcome to another Fashion Factfiles blogpost!

The Fashion Factfiles is where we expose the brutal realities of the garment industry, the side that the big corporations and big names in fashion work hard to hide behind ‘girl power’ tees and ‘look at us recycling omg we duz care’ campaigns.

This month we’ll be highlighting an issue that many may not be familiar with, but is absolutely horrific and heartbreaking: the Sumangali System.

WARNING: Content regarding sexual abuse and suicide throughout.

Continue reading “Fashion Factfiles #3: The Sumangali System”

LET’S TALK ABOUT ETHICAL FASHION PLS

Ethical fashion: ‘an
approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises
benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.’

Ethical Fashion Forum

image

(Source: https://airrclothingblog.com/2015/03/06/brand-profile-beaumont-organic-available-at-airr-clothing/)

Wow. Where do I begin?

Actually let me begin with this disclaimer: ANY CRITICISM I MAY MAKE
ABOUT CERTAIN SITUATIONS/ORGANISATIONS/GROUPS OF PEOPLE IS NOT AN ATTACK ON
THESE PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS BUT THE SYSTEM FROM WHICH THEY HAVE DERIVED FROM. 

K lets begin.

So I guess you could say I’ve been in/observing the ethical
fashion scene for about 4/5 years now. During my first year of uni I realised I needed to go beyond
complaining about the oppression of garment workers and start acting, and decided to create a blog called Oh So Ethical. My first
thought was to create an ethical fashion blog where I styled outfits I’d made out of
secondhand clothes, and raved about the latest ethical brands I loved (I
cringely called this ‘Fridays Five Ethical Faves’ ffssssssss). After a while I
stopped, but went back into it when my cousins and I realised we needed
somewhere to share our opinions, ideas,and hopefully inspire others to think
and act ethically- and so we rebranded Oh So Ethical and made it what it is today. 

At the beginning I tended to place a large emphasis on ethical brands that we liked and bought from. ‘Ethical is the new black’ was my favourite slogan. However, as the years have gone on, and with more interaction with activists, friends, random people I’ve met, and having witnessed the ongoing exploitation of garment workers continue year after year, I have become extremely cynical of the effectiveness of ethical brands, particularly ‘ethical fashion’.

Indeed, through learning from others and seriously thinking about
ethical fashion, questioning whether it is an actual means of empowerment for
workers,and if it will ACTUALLY dismantle the system of oppression, I have come to a conclusion:

It’s a resounding NO.

Here’s y.


image

(Source: https://fashionindustrybroadcast.com/2017/06/12/sustainable-ethical-fashion-faux-has-never-looked-so-real-or-this-stylish/)

I recently read an amazing article in The Guardian by Martin Lukacs, which really helped me understand the underlying processes behind ethical fashion. To sum it up, we live in a neoliberal society, where we are taught to act and thrive individually. When it
comes to activism, we are taught to focus on how we, as individuals, can change
the situation, and are made to feel personally responsible and guilty for the world’s problems.
Due to the guilt created by this individualism,we feel the need to relieve our
guilt by acting in a way that makes us feel better, and as we are seen as consumers (as opposed to citizens) within neoliberal ideology, our means of creating change is through buying and consumption e.g. buying ethical clothing. 

While these individual actions are undoubtedly important, by placing such a great emphasis on individualistic activism, we are intentionally being steered away from focusing on the real perpetrators at large: CORPORATIONS- who are out here exploiting workers and the environment, and continue to get away with it. In turn, we are made to neglect the fact that we need to be targeting the root causes of exploitation, including the deregulation of state power that allows corporations to get away with murder, and the capitalist system that puts profits over people, encouraging exploitation and greed. By steering our attention away from such issues, corporations can continue making profits and getting away with their bullshit, while we discuss the pros and cons of bamboo leggings. (see more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jul/17/neoliberalism-has-conned-us-into-fighting-climate-change-as-individuals)  

Author of Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion’ Tansy Hoskins provides a similar discourse, adding that we are encouraged to trust in capitalism to make change and better the world; that companies can be made ethical through our consumer actions. However, the contradiction is that corporations have only become stronger and continue to exploit workers/resources, despite their greenwashing and attempts to come across as ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’. More shopping is not going to free workers from this system. By using consumerism as a sole means of empowering workers, we are utilising the very system that has led to the exploitation of workers in the Global South, namely capitalism, without even acknowledging or striving to challenge or dismantle it. (see more: https://oxfordleftreview.com/olr-issue-14/tansy-hoskins-neoliberalism-and-fashion/)

In an insightful article on White Saviour Complex
and Fair Trade, Bani Amor delves into the colonial connotations of attempts to ‘save’ the world via ethical
companies, which are argued to share parallels with the colonial activities of the West going into the Global South and
attempting to civilise the ‘Other’ with its saviour tactics, thus ensuring domination over the GS and its resources, validating supremacy. I’m not saying ethical companies are going to these countries on colonial conquests, but we really do need to understand the historic relevance of colonialism in interactions between the Global North and South such as these. If you go to these countries, get products made, sell them in the name of ‘liberating workers’ while not giving them a say or listening to them, and continue to stay silent on the structural system that has resulted in your existence as an ethical brand, you are falling into dangerous territory.

The article also reviews research on cause-related
marketing, which is basically when corporations and nonprofit charities combine to
promote sales and causes simultaneously. By tying serious social causes such as poverty and exploitation to making profits, this results in the depoliticising and downplaying of such causes, and provides an undignified, extremely
simplified solution to a complex, very dire situation. 

Finally, one pivotal point made is the fact
that coloured women, through this process of ‘saviourism’ are made both “hypervisible, but also invisible- ‘seen but not known’”. Their existence is highlighted, but they are simultaneously being silenced, as workers are spoken over, dehumanised and patronised by brands and movements that are supposed to be
‘empowering’ them. (read more: https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/spend-save)

In general, the ethical fashion movement tends to solely focus on how we can individually change the industry and ‘save’ workers in a way that utilises and continues to prop up the very system that is screwing workers over in the first place, conflicting with its ‘empowering’ rhetoric.


GREAT SO WTF DO I DO NOW THEN MAYISHA.

image

(Source: http://www.vqronline.org/reporting-articles/2014/04/ghosts-rana-plaza)

Okay so I know I’ve painted a very dull image of ethical fashion, and I know not all ethical brands are the same, etc etc. However, when the  industry constantly paints ethical fashion as a positive means to an end, neglecting the issues surrounding ethical fashion, alternative viewpoints are needed.

I get a lot of people asking me for advice e.g. about ethical brands, how to be more ethical etc. Ultimately we want our goods to be made by workers who were treated fairly. Personally, I stick to secondhand- it’s cheaper for me and helps reduce waste in landfill. I do like ethical clothing, and knowing where my clothes/jewellery has come from, but if I do buy ethically I will from now on be seeing what that brand is doing to support garment workers and in calling out corporations, so if you’re an ethical brand prepare for a QnA sesh with ur girl.

One thing I would advise is to not simply boycott the high street- this comes from trade unionists and garment worker activists in Bangladesh. They want to produce garments and a source of income, they just don’t want to be tortured in the process (obviously). At the same time, we cannot deny that our excessive consumption is part of the problem, so if you need a new jacket- please just buy your jacket and not a jacket, 5 tops and 6 dresses because they were half price- really think about your purchases. Being a ‘shopoholic’ is a cute insta aesthetic but its seriously impacting the environment and feeding the system of worker exloitation.

Also acknowledge that a lot of people simply cannot afford to buy ethically, and should not be made to feel guilty for going to primark to buy jeans. 

One thing I also really want to highlight, as you would have probably guessed from the blog, is that our activism is not limited to our purchasing. We need to be vocal, we need to be out there demanding change from corporations, calling them out, exposing them etc. Something as little as a tweet, an email, and insta post can go a long way guys. I know its not in fashion to support such movements (pardon the pun) but we really have to keep pushing- we cannot afford to wait for another Rana Plaza for us to take action.

This might piss people off. I’m sorry. But understand that a few years ago I was the same as the very organisations and brands I’m talking about, and it took criticism like this to understand that I needed to rethink my activism if I were to truly create change. Plus, you feel pretty helpless after hearing of a factory fire every other week, another worker protest because factory owners didn’t pay their workers that month, stories of sexual abuse of young females from management, refugees being exploited, masses of workers fainting simultaneously, and NO ONE CARING. Not even the very people who by default should be sharing and raising concerns about these issues. It’s surreal.

We have groups and regular discussions on twitter that enable ethical brands to get together, support each other and discuss how we can promote ethical brands and use them
etc. It’s nice how such elaborate forms of unity can be created surrounding ethical branding but little is done to address the very problems that has led to the reason these ethical brands exist, and how to put an end to worker exploitation. Again, we are
steering towards ‘solutions’ that aren’t actually solutions, but are utilising capitalism
and perpetuating the neoliberal stance that we need to individually create the
change.

BUN THAT SHIT.

Things are going to start changing.

We are not only going to change the world with our individual practices, we are going to change the garment industry
in a way that emphasises our solidarity and support for garment workers,
creating a mass solidarity movement. We are going to call out corporates when we
clock their messy moves and let them know as consumers we don’t f*ck with them unless they treat their workers with dignity.
We are not going to buy our way to change, we are going to collectively DEMAND it.

We have no choice but to.

image

(Source: http://thechronicleherald.ca/world/1126316-bangladeshi-garment-workers-protest-on-may-day)

The Shy Activist- “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

I’ve already highlighted some of the issues that are connected with the chocolate industry in previous blog posts including child labour, milk production and palm oil. 

I suppose this is a post to highlight the issues we face with this product which is a staple and an addiction for many of us.

It isn’t a surprise considering the state of the industry that child labour and unfair treatment of workers is prevalent in cocoa farming. Cocoa is mainly grown in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Latin America where farmers are paid $2 per day. You don’t need a huge imagination to think what workers get paid. In fact research suggests children are imprisoned on farms after thy look for work or their relatives sell them to farm owners.

These farms supply the biggest chocolate companies including Mars, Hershey and Nestle. These three companies are in the top 10 leading confectioners in the world. I just will never understand capitalism and the concept of being mega rich but not paying your workers enough to live, if anything. If we buy a bar of chocolate which is now around 60p we’ve already used almost half of a farmers daily wage.

The confectioners hide behind the layers of industry, the government, chocolate dealers and farmers, in their bid to stay ignorant. Food Empower Project have written a lot about the issues in the chocolate industry and you can read it here. They have highlighted that although some confectioners certify that they are fair trade and do not allow child labour undercover investigation has found this to be greenwashing. Companies are slow to make changes to ensure that workers are treated with dignity.

If you want to make sure that your money is going to people who deserve it here’s a list that the Food Empowerment Project put together based on companies they recommend to least recommend. The list is extensive and it includes the following that I can recommend in taste. I am REALLY fussy about chocolate because I sadly am a chocoholic.

  • Vego- My favourite
  • Coop brand
  • Divine
  • Montezuma
  • Plamil 

The good shopping guide also made a list based on environmental impact, animal welfare, political donations and many other factors. Read it here. The only company to get a score of 100 is the seed and bean company which I have yet to try, but I will make sure to!

FAIR FAVOURITES- FOUNDLING

“For something to be truly beautiful, it has to be beautiful inside & out..so we set about finding a team of ethical manufacturing partners around the globe. With children & families of our own…ethical production was the only way to go!  Our clothing range is made by a sedex accredited, government regulated business in India – an assurance that people are not being taken advantage of & that they are entitled to the working conditions which most of us just take for granted.”

la cirque trapeze tunic bleu

darjeeling kimono

byzantine nightingale earrings gold

trinidad button down maxi dress

Sources and further reading

https://www.statista.com/statistics/252097/net-sales-of-the-leading-10-confectionery-companies-worldwide/

http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/

http://grist.org/food/a-guide-to-ethical-chocolate/

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/02/the-truth-behind-the-chocolate-industry-will-leave.html

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/how-ethical-is-your-chocolate/

The Shy Activist- Palm Oil Palm Oil Palm Oil

Palm is the most commonly used vegetable oil, it is in most food products and mixed with motor vehicle products. I have found that it’s really difficult to find any food products that don’t have palm oil in them. As an ethical eater I try to avoid food that uses palm oil because of the impact it has on the environment and animals.

image
image

Air Pollution

Palm Oil is cultivated in tropical places such as Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. Vast areas of forest are destroyed to make room for more palm oil plantations everyday. 

When forests are bulldozed and torched large amounts of harmful gasses are released into the atmosphere.

The fires also affect the health of workers and people who live in the surrounding areas.

Animals

Tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans are threatened by Palm Oil production. Endangered species habitat’s are destroyed for the purpose of Palm Oil and they “are squeezed into increasingly isolated fragments of natural habitat.”

Pail Oil forests have the least amount of biodiversity at 11 species compared with 80 species in a primary forest.

All animals are affected when poison is used to eliminate rats.

Communities

Deforestation for the purpose of Palm Oil displaces communities who aren’t recognised by the government when the land is handed over to companies. People are pushed out of their land which often creates friction within communities and against companies. 

Farmers who are pushed out of their land then have to clear forests to set up a new farm. New farm land is often very far from towns which restricts access to markets and health and well being services.

Labour rights- taken from SPOTT

  • Workers often live in poor conditions without access to basic facilities such as clean water and lighting, and are isolated by a lack of social support and cultural barriers.
  • Some oil palm plantations are dependent on imported labour or undocumented immigrants.
  • Trafficking cases have been identified in Malaysian and Indonesian oil palm plantations. Workers often have their passports and other official documents confiscated and are not given proper contracts. They can face abusive conditions and can be threatened with deportation or confiscation of wages.
  • Child labour is a common problem in Malaysian and Indonesian oil palm plantations. Children receive little or no pay and may be forced to endure harsh working conditions including long hours and exposure to toxic chemicals. This can be driven by poor education, a lack of school facilities and a generally low regard for education in rural areas.
  • In Malaysia, it is estimated that between 72,000 and 200,000 stateless children work on palm oil plantations.

“Reports of displaced communities and illegal land grabs are not uncommon. The resulting conflicts, loss of income and dependence on large plantations have had a significant impact of the social welfare of many.”

Can things improve?

Greenpeace supporters campaigned for many years and put pressure on big brands to stop using Palm Oil company until it changed it’s practices. IOI, the worlds third largest Palm Oil company, has now put together an action plan agreed to independent third-party verification of its progress in one year’s time. This came after a suspension from “Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) following a complaint by environmental organisation Aidenvironment, which meant it could no longer call any of its palm oil ‘sustainable’”

Unilever and Nestle have stopped buying from IOI and refuse to buy from IOI after the suspension from RSPO has been lifted.

“One of the most important points is that IOI will be actively monitoring its suppliers to ensure they too are safeguarding forests and people. Any company selling palm oil to IOI will need to prove it is protecting forests, so the impacts should spread far beyond IOI’s own operations.”

Here is a list of things you can do taken from rainforest rescue:

  • Enjoy a home-cooked meal using fresh ingredients and oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  • Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  • Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. 
  • Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  • Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.

Ethical Consumer have put together a list of products that contain no palm oil or sustainably produced palm oil. I’m going to focus on the chocolate list because that’s my vice!!! But have a look at the rest of the list for more products.

Other Palm oil-free boxes of chocolates:

  • Vivani (organic): all gift chocolate (mini bars gift tins)
  • Co-op: 24 Assorted Chocolate Truffles, Chocolate Coins, Truly Irresistible Milk Chocolate Truffles gift cube, Truly Irresistible Mint Selection, Loved By Us Belgian Chocolate Pralines,  Loved By Us Irish Cream Liqueurs
  • Mondelez: Terry’s Chocolate Orange Plain, Toblerone (all varieties)
  • Guylian: Seashells, Dark Chocolate Sea Horses, Pearles d’Ocean tin
  • Lindt: HELLO Milk chocolate heart tin

Best company rating for palm oil:

  • Booja Booja (organic, palm oil free company),
  • Divine (Fairtrade, palm oil free company),
  • Cocoa Loco (organic),
  • Montezuma (organic),
  • Vivani (organic),
  • Ferrero Rocher, Raffaello,
  • Mondelez brands (Green & Black’s Organic Collection, Milk Tray, Roses, Heroes, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Terry’s All Gold, Toblerone),
  • Mars brands (Celebrations),
  • Guylian,
  • Lindt: Lindor, Lindt
  • Co-op

Worst company rating for palm oil:

  • Thorntons,
  • Elizabeth Shaw,
  • ASDA,
  • Morrisons,
  • Tesco,
  • Aldi,
  • Lidl,
  • Iceland

FAIR FAVOURITES- Ethical Collection 

OK these guys have such a beautiful collection. I want everything!

“Giovanna Eastwood founded Ethical Collection in 2015, encouraged by the work of her mother’s charity in Brazil. The charity taught young women to craft and sell bags made of recycled material and Giovanna witnessed the impact that the work had on these women and their communities. The pride they took in their art and the environmental benefits of recycled material gave her inspiration and incentive to dedicate her skills to ethical fashion.”

Pitusa Pom pom Top Pink

image

Uzma Bozai Cotton Sagittarius Sweatshirt Grey

image

Armor Lux Organic Cotton Red Breton Top

image

Beaumont Organic Sophia Maxi Dress Navy & Red

image

Sources and further reading

https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/topics/palm-oil#start

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/environmental_impacts/soil_water_pollution/

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/forests/major-palm-oil-company-promises-protect-forests-20170428

http://greenpalm.org/about-palm-oil/social-and-environmental-impact-of-palm-oil

http://www.sustainablepalmoil.org/impacts/social/

May Exposé: UNIQLO

image

Source: http://en.hkctu.org.hk/mainland-china/position-and-analysis/uniqlos-neglect-of-its-suppliers-labour-exploitation

Hey guys! So its now May (how pls) and this month we will be exposing the one and only…..UNIQLOOOOO!

UNIQLO is a clothing company, which was originally founded
in Yamaguchi, Japan in 1949 as a textiles manufacturer. It is now a global
brand with over 1000 stores around the world.[1]

According to their website, their clothes are ‘simple and
essential yet universal, so people can freely combine them with their own
unique styles…’[2]

That’s all good but here’s my fave part; UNIQLO’s reasoning
for why they do what they do:

‘Because if all people can look and feel better every day,
then maybe the world can be a little better too.’ [3]

LOOOOOLL ALLOW IT. (can we end the exposé here bc thats enough to bait out uniqlo tbh- cringey af)

Despite how cringey this sounds however, it looks like it’s
working, as according to Forbes, UNIQLO has a brand value of $7b, with sales of
$11.4bn recorded in May 2016 [4]. In addition, it turns out UNIQLO’s CEO Tadashi Yanai is the richest man in Japan![5].

As with most retailers, UNIQLO’s financial growth has done
little to ensure the wellbeing of those who it depends on to achieve its level
of monetary success. Check out what’s been lowkey going on recently in UNIQLO
supplier factories, and information on how you can get in contact with them and
demand answers!


CHINA

image

Source: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1678477/uniqlo-suppliers-put-workers-danger

Last year, War on
Want and a labour organisation in China known as Students and Scholars against
Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) released a report revealing findings from four
of the 70 factories in China that produce for UNIQLO. These factories had been
recognised by UNIQLO as the best-performing factories. Here’s what they found:[6]

EXCESSIVE WORKING HOURS:

Standard working hours per month in these factories is 174
hours, excluding the excessive overtime hours added on top of this. However in
many cases this was largely exceeded. Indeed, in one factory, workers were
working 132 hours of overtime, while in another, workers were working 150 hours
overtime- nearly the same amount as two full time jobs for less than a living
wage.

In some cases, workers were required to work from 7:30am to
midnight, seven days a week. Often they weren’t given leave to take a rest,
working these excessive hours for two months straight. When production was at
its peak, workers had to soak their feet in hot water to relieve the pain and
fatigue after standing for hours.

Due to wages being so low, workers are compelled to work
overtime. This is exacerbated by the fact that workers are not properly paid
for overtime e.g. workers were not paid double on weekends when they were
supposed to.

UNSAFE WORKING ENVIRONMENT

There were many health hazards found in UNIQLO factories,
including:

High temperatures: Factory floors are found to be at very
high temperatures, for example, on the knitting floor of one factory it was 38°C.

No protective gear:  Men
were seen working topless whilst women were found working in sweat-drenched
clothes. In addition, workers in dyeing departments were expected to work with
heavy loads of fabric that weighed up to 600kg with no protective gear, risking
burns or chemical exposure.

Poor ventilation: Poor ventilation and a high density of
cotton fibre in the air increased the risk of byssinosis (a serious
occupational asthma and respiratory irritation). Moreover, as cotton dust is
combustible this can, and has, led to dust explosions.  

Use of toxic chemicals: The use of harmful chemicals in some
factories has led to toxic waste water flooding factory floors, exposing the
workers to these chemicals and also exposing workers to the risk of
electrocution.

Falls from 2-metre high stepladders are found to be common
when working with rolls of yarn- as workers are in a rush to meet targets.

PUNITIVE MEASURES:

Many factories use harsh protocols to ensure workers are
meeting targets and ensure product quality. For example, in one factory,
workers’ wages were deducted if the quality of their work was not up to
standard or if they were found resting outside their 30-minute lunch and dinner
breaks.

Fines were also issued. For example, at another factory, a
worker had his entire wage for the day deducted when he was caught attempting
to iron two sleeves at the same time instead of one at a time. Like for
real!?!?

In another factory, workers were encouraged to report mistakes
made by colleagues. Money would be deducted from the salary of the worker who
made the mistake, and transferred to the salary of the worker who had reported
the mistake. Managers regularly used the factory
broadcasting system to name and shame workers who weren’t hitting their
production targets. At one factory, if workers could not reach the target,
other workers would have to take on the extra work.

NO UNIONS ALLOWED

It is extremely hard for workers to voice their concerns, as
there is no collective, democratic body representing workers in negotiations
with management.  In one factory, the
chairperson of the union was also the manager at the factory, therefore making
it easier to quash any attempts to advocate workers’ rights. At the same
factory, it was heard that when workers organised a strike against low wages in
2009, management hired gangsters to physically assault the workers’ leaders and
suppress the strike. In another case, workers who had led a strike against high
temperatures on the shop floor were dismissed.

In addition, in June 2015, a supplier of UNIQLO called Artigas Clothing shut down without notice and refused compensation for more than 500 workers. After hearing about the possibility of a closure in December 2014, 1000 workers went on strike and demanded that the company pay their pension and overtime payments. The police and factory management shut down the strike and forced workers to return to work, ignoring their demands. Then when June 2015 arrived, workers slept in the factory for weeks to prevent the factory closing without giving the workers their compensation and pension payments, and wished to collectively speak to management. The factory owners rejected, so workers petitioned to the provincial government to resolve the dispute, which led to violent police repression and the detention of 150 workers. One of the female leaders was given indefinite detention in an attempt to force workers to sign a ‘voluntary’ resignation if they wanted her release. 359 workers were pressured into signing through individual visits by management as well. Workers were forcibly removed to work in another factory, and workers wh were part of the collective action were dismissed. UNIQLO did nothing to support the workers.

BRIBERY TO GET AWAY WITH ABUSES

During factory audits, when inspectors come to check out the
workers’ conditions to report back to retailers, workers are often bribed (e.g.
using a cash reward) and compelled to give responses the factory wants them to
give. Considering that workers may be giving false information about their
working conditions, it is worrying to think how much worse conditions may
actually be.

This report caused a stir, and thanks to the ongoing
campaigning of War on Want and SACOM, this January UNIQLO agreed to make its
supply chain public, making it easier to locate where UNIQLO’s clothes are made
and therefore making it easier to track conditions, organise and build a
stronger movement of workers in the area. Then in March, the pressure from
campaigners further led to UNIQLO publishing their list of 146 core factory
suppliers across seven countries in Asia!

INDONESIA

image

Source: http://en.hkctu.org.hk/mainland-china/position-and-analysis/uniqlos-neglect-of-its-suppliers-labour-exploitation

 In 2015, a factory making clothes for UNIQLO in
Indonesia closed down, leaving around 4000 workers without a job, with four
months of wages unpaid and compensation amounting to nearly $11m! Workers have
been forced into homelessness and unemployment with no support whatsoever from
UNIQLO. Two years later and workers are still waiting for their wages and
compensation. It’s absolutely ridiculous[7] 

CAMBODIA

image

In 2015, Human Rights Now (HRN) visited Cambodia and
found a supplier to UNIQLO, where a male worker revealed the horrific conditions
workers were enduring. He was asked to work overtime almost everyday, including
working 24 consecutive hours. However, he was never paid for overtime hours
after 6 pm. In fact, after 24 hours of overtime shifts, workers were only given
$5. If workers didn’t work overtime, their contracts would not be renewed. Workers
from this and one other factory claimed that they were union members, which was
why management refused to renew their contracts. Many workers were said to pass
out due to high temperatures and a lack of air conditioning. In addition, workers
would not receive safety equipment such as goggles or a mask to cover their mouths
and noses from the detergent odours in the laundry department. However, they wouldn’t
have been able to use the masks anyway, because of the high temperature of the
room, making it difficult to breathe with them on. Workers would be forced to
wear masks and goggles only when inspectors came.[8] 

In addition, the coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’
Democratic Union (CCAWDU) found that in 2014, 6,715 people were dismissed due
to their active participation in labour unions. In late 2015, 50 workers were
dismissed due to their union membership. In December the factory were ordered
by the Arbitration Council to reinstate the 50 workers, but they refused. A
strike began in February 2016, but instead of reinstating the workers, another
55 were terminated, and union members were refused contract renewals.[9]


image

Source: http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/newscast/474

Now we know the situation It is our duty to stand in
solidarity with the workers who are tirelessly risking their lives to stand up
to UNIQLO, to work in dignity, and to ensure justice for themselves and their
colleagues. They are out there risking their lives as union members,
protesting, allowing reporters to tell their stories. It is the very least we
can do.

This is a petition to demand UNIQLO to pay the Indonesian workers
who were layoff their wages and compensation: http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1819&ea.campaign.id=65507

CONTACT THEM: Let them know you know what they’re up to, and
that you are concerned.

Twitter: @uniqlo_uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uniqlo.uk/?ref=br_rs

Instagram: @uniqlo_uk

Email: https://www.uniqlo.com/uk/en/contactus

Source: http://en.hkctu.org.hk/mainland-china/position-and-analysis/uniqlos-neglect-of-its-suppliers-labour-exploitation

Love&&Solidarity!

[1] https://www.uniqlo.com/uk/en/company/

[2] https://www.uniqlo.com/uk/en/company/about_uniqlo.html

[3]
Ibid

[4] https://www.forbes.com/companies/uniqlo/.

[5] http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1819&ea.campaign.id=65507

[6] media.waronwant.org/sites/default/files/WoW_uniqlo%20report%202016.pdf?_ga=2.50691241.1070563432.1493166082-1283920894.1475261908

[7] http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1819&ea.campaign.id=65507

[8] http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/default.aspx?TabId=836&CompanyId=554121&CategoryId=421

[9] http://media.waronwant.org/sites/default/files/WoW_uniqlo%20report%202016.pdf?_ga=2.26959997.15892055.1493503177-1283920894.1475261908