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. We won’t be looking at 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 yay!

 

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 aren’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. 

It continues a relationship of dependency 

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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

 

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 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

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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 the need for investment, 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 indicates a corporate mindset. 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

Fourth Anniversary of the Rana Plaza Collapse- my thoughts.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

Today marks the fourth anniversary of an incident that left the world horrified, as we witnessed the deplorable consequences of corporate greed and capitalism.

On 24th April 2013, 8am, 3639 workers refused to enter the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, due to visible cracks in the wall that evidently posed a threat to the workers’ lives. In response, the owner Sohel Rana, brought paid gang members to beat the workers, forcing them to work, with threats that they would not be paid that month. They reluctantly went in.

At 8:45am, the 8 storey building collapsed.

1,137 have been confirmed dead, with over 200 remaining missing. Tales of workers trapped in the rubble with no choice but to saw their own limbs off to escape, of workers trapped within the collapse for days without food or water, surrounded by dead bodies. Of the families who had to identify their deceased family members, only to find that the bodies had been so deformed by the collapse they were almost  unrecognisable. The suffering of the injured workers who are no longer physically capable of working, plummeting them into further poverty. The orphans who lost either one or both parents. The workers who survived, but must face on going psychological torment, as they return to work in the garment factories.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

What makes things worse is the amount of pressure required to force retailers whose clothes had been found in the factory to compensate the victims and the families of the victims. Indeed, while some did pay up, others, notably Benetton, required intense pressure from campaigners before they gave in. Why they felt they were in no position to support these families is beyond me.

For the past four years since the accident, activists around the world have marked this day as Fashion Revolution Day, and the week it takes place in as Fashion Revolution Week. During this time, people all around the world ask big businesses who made their clothes, highlighting consumer concern for the workers behind their clothes and the need to hold corporations accountable for their workers’ wellbeing.

Demand for the fashion industry to check themselves has increased, and it is refreshing to see fast fashion corporations becoming more transparent, as well as some improvements being shown.

What I cannot deal with however, is the recurring news stories on factory fires from Vietnam to India, garment workers fainting en masse in Cambodia due to lack of nutrition, exhaustion and sweltering heat, young Dalit girls in Tamil Nadu being sexually exploited and abused through the Sumangali System (an agreement that women work in return for dowry required for marriage), women having abortions or working up til pregnancy to avoid being fired, impoverished communities being struck with high levels of cancer and disease due to corporations polluting their land with toxic materials or compelling workers to use hazardous materials, the cotton farmers committing suicide because they cannot keep up with the impossible debt they are put in.

The worst part? We are all unwillingly complicit in this cycle of exploitation, through a system called ‘fast fashion.’

Fast fashion simply refers to when retailers pick up trends from the catwalk, and push them out at large quantities to consumers as cheaply as possible. However, with trends now rapidly changing faster than ever, due to factors such as instant coverage of increasingly frequent fashion shows and online accessibility to new styles, retailers must keep up in order to meet consumer desires. For example, in Zara, designs will stay on sale for a maximum of four weeks. If Zara launch a particular product that doesn’t sell within a week, it is withdrawn, orders are cancelled and new designs are formulated, further highlighting their dedication to consumer demands.

As fast fashion retailers continue to push out new collections in large quantities and short spaces of time, this creates impossible targets for garment workers to reach in terms of clothes required to be made. This is why retailers aim to set up factories in developing countries, where the impoverished are in desperate need of work, where wages can be kept low, and where laws supporting the rights of garment workers are weak. This allows corporations to exploit workers more easily, with workers being faced with long hours, limited breaks, poor working conditions, poor pay, as well as physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.

Smh.

As someone who has always loved designing clothes, combining materials, mixing my cultures via fabric, using my wardrobe to express political views- I feel evermore compelled to fight this battle. I love clothes, but fashion is absolute bull. As my fave Tansy Hoskins explained in an article, fashion today is a facade of ‘choice and empowerment’, a beacon of creativity, but intentionally refuses to acknowledge that it is held up by and dependent on the exploitation of the impoverished.

This is evident in the glorifying of fashion on social media. Particularly, it is the rise of the fashion blogger that has made me increasingly alarmed with this lack of accountability the fashion industry gets away with. Every time I see an Insta post with a caption saying something like ‘OMG I’M ADDICTED TO SHOES’ ‘SOMEONE TELL ME HOW TO STOP BUYING CLOTHES’ ‘I CAN’T STOP BUYING CLOTHES’ ‘RETAIL THERAPY’, and all these clothing hauls, it makes me sad that corporations have really worked their magic on us. Through persuading us that the only way we can be deemed as successful, the only way we can be happy, is by purchasing clothes that only provide a short term happiness which eventually fades until we get our next fix of ‘retail therapy’, they are truly feeding on our insecurities and the susceptibility of our subconscious to external messages. I can honestly say, most of this realisation has come from analysing myself and my responses to the world, and trust me it is a constant struggle battling between the messages we receive from society and my own consciousness.

At the end of the day, as much as society compels us to think fashion, style etc is the epitome of social success and happiness, we need to remind ourselves that this mindset is intentional, is a tactical form of marketing, and most importantly, A LIE.

The fact is, no one should have to suffer for me to be able to express myself, to be unique, to be creative, to be able to have a cute insta aesthetic and get bare likes for an ootd. As obvious as it sounds, this is the world we are in.

While I am still unsure as to how exactly we transform the fashion industry (I think about this everyday ngl lol), there is something I am sure of: You need to make your voice heard. Retailers depend on consumers to thrive, so increasing the pressure on these corporations to ensure the wellbeing of their workers is essential. Even simply @ing or emailing retailers like h&m, inquiring about workers rights has a powerful impact, especially if done collectively. In addition,  I strongly believe in the impact our own actions can have on changing the world and changing our own behaviours. By reducing the amount of unnecessary clothes we buy, mending or recycling the clothes we have, opting for secondhand garmz or even Fairtrade stuff if u got p, we can encompass a sense of consciousness for humanity with every action we take, allowing our lives to symbolise the world we want to see, and help to actually be the change we want to see.  There are also many organisations out here working actively to support garment workers around the world, such as Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the Label- check them out. I hope, both individually and collectively, we will all take a stand against this consumerist, materialistic society fuelled by capitalism. 

Anyway I’m out. I truly hope we can create a world where the greed and ego of the people at the top is overridden by the masses and our desire to care for and protect our brothers and sisters around the world. 

Mayisha

p.s. check out some of the events happening for Fashion Revolution Week this week here

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Photography by Rahul Talukder