Food for Thought

Fairer Fashion

Post by Charis Kibble

The fashion and textiles industry is one of the world’s largest industries. It brings in billions of pounds each year and is responsible for millions of jobs world wide.

It’s a powerful industry that over the years has dramatically changed the projection of our economy, and has seen the rise and fall of fashion trends that have changed the way we live and express ourselves. All who wear clothes are involved.

And yet, buried amidst the mass complexity of it all, exploitation and corruption still exists.

‘In Bangladesh two brave women approach their boss with a signed letter from all their colleagues stating that they’d like to start a union and would like to apply for fairer wages. Their request is rejected, they are beaten and abused and told to get back to work. The factory doors are locked and everyone inside is told that they can’t go home until the next orders are met.’

‘In a factory in the UK a migrant worker is being forced to work long hours packing clothing to be sold on an online clothing site. He has had his passport taken away from him. Any mention of this to the authorities would see him being deported back to his own country.’

 ‘Somewhere in a factory in India a young child struggles to stay awake as he sits beside a fabric dye bath – his job is to stop the fabric passing through from twisting and getting caught in the machinery. He doesn’t go to school, instead he works to support his family. Not one of the companies who buy the products he helps make ever come to India to check up on them.’

Though these examples seem like one off scenarios, the truth is these stories are actually driven from countless re-telling’s of exploitation across the fashion supply chain. Exploitation isn’t just a third world country issue, it is happening everywhere and it is happening a lot.

I personally first started learning about all of the issues involved whilst I was at university. I was studying hand embroidery in London and had stumbled across the sustainable fashion brand People Tree.  I read up on all they did, and thought it was great. Though I was intrigued as to why it was so necessary for them to be pioneering a new way of doing fashion.

Obviously, now I am older and wiser and have become fully immersed in the movement of sustainable fashion, I am better equipped in understanding what exactly is going on. Corruption is widespread and change has to be made to ensure that the people who make our clothes are treated with fairness and equality.

Though it must be said, I do often have moments of doubt, where I question what a difference I can really make in an industry so huge.

I recently had a chat with a CEO of a very well known shoe company.
He told me that he can often tell within two days of an item being released in the stores, whether it will sell well or not. And if it does, he knows exactly what type of styles to order in for next time.

It is important to know that every time you buy clothes, you are essentially voting with your money, you are telling companies what you love and what you don’t. You are the reason they exist.

So if you, like me want to make a difference to the fashion industry you can start by becoming someone who votes well with their money.

There are many new sustainable fashion brands on the scene that are all committed to transparency in their supply chains and who provide fair wages for the people who make their clothes.

Know the Origin, People Tree, Po-Zu, Idioma, Brothers We Stand and Thought Clothing are just a few of my favourites.  You can support them in all they do by making the decision to swap where you shop.

And if spending money isn’t enough of a vote you can use your voice too!

You have the power to tell clothing companies that you want them to be honest and transparent. Making it known exactly where their clothes are coming from and who the people are that are making them. You can tell those companies that you want them to make sure that the people they employ are being treated right.

One really simple way you can do this is by joining the Fashion Revolution movement on the 23rd – 29th of April where hundreds of people will be asking their favourite fashion brands #whomademyclothes !?

Find out more and see the other ways you can be involved in the fashion revolution at:  https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/get-involved/

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23

Charis does hand embroidery, and runs a blog about ethical fashion – do check out her work here! https://www.charisesther.com/

New Year, New Me?

The beginning of a new year is often a helpful moment for self-reflection, isn’t it?

Whether it brings an optimistic gym subscription or a resolution to file lecture notes straight away (in the words of Aragorn: ‘That is not this day’), we often find ourselves thinking back over the months that have passed and wondering how we might want things to change over the next ones. As we tie up the accounts from our first term of Treated Right, it’s a moment to say thank you for your support – which led to over a £1000 being raised for our chosen charities – and to look towards the future.

With that in mind, it’s also a good opportunity to reflect on developments in human trafficking and exploitation over the last few months on a global and national level. Here are a few noteworthy things:

  • The US Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 (published in April) is so worth reading if you have the time, and want a good overview of the challenges governments face in prevention efforts and the judicial sphere. A section I found particularly encouraging was the TIP Report Heroes,which offers just a few examples of people who are boldly defending the rights of others.
  • There has been positive change in legal efforts: following Britain’s lead (the first country to pass a law requiring companies to disclose their methods to ensure their supply chains are slavery free), other major nations from France to the Netherlands are doing the same. In France, a law was passed which requires companies with over 5,000 employees in the country, or 10,000 worldwide, to publish plans outlining steps to cut out human rights and environmental violations from their supply chains. The Dutch parliament proposed a law to make firms determine if child labour exists in their supply chains, and set out an action plan on how to combat it. Meanwhile, Australia is considering anti-slavery laws similar to Britain’s, and is set to table draft legislation in early 2018.
  • Some of the largest worldwide brands from Adidas to Apple, Intel and Walmart are examining their supply chains and speaking up about what they’re doing to fight slavery. Adidas and Intel were among the winners of the second Thomson Reuters Foundation Stop Slavery Award, recognising their efforts to identify, investigate and root out forced labour. Companies are finding modern slavery is increasingly spotlighted, with regulatory and consumer pressure to disclose what’s going on in the supply chains.

But alongside this there are huge difficulties. Notwithstanding the appalling truth that human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, here are some facts pertinent to this year:

  • 20 countries in the TIP Report are still not state parties to the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.
  • Earlier this year, legal experts raised serious concerns that Britain’s withdrawal from EU could dramatically curtail efforts to tackle trafficking: the loss of EU regulations, funding from Brussels and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
  • And what’s described as the ongoing ‘human tragedy’ of the migrant crisis means that more people than ever before are vulnerable to this kind of abuse: in November, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi warned: “Compelled to flee, but without legal pathways to safety, refugees are exposed to appalling harm, together with migrants, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour,”

So at the start of 2018 there’s a lot to look back on. But surely it’s also a moment to review the way we ourselves live and consume, and ask what we can and should change. If you’ve never taken the slavery footprint calculator test at http://slaveryfootprint.org/, then I really encourage you to do so. There’s something very stark about seeing how many people are enslaved to work for the things we own and so easily dispose of.

In response to that, this year you could:

  • Commit to buying Fairtrade, whenever the option is there. Items might cost a bit more but as sustainable food advocate Anna Lappe says: ‘Every time you spend moneyyoure casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ When buying gifts, take a look at brands like Worldcrafts which develops sustainable, fair-trade businesses among impoverished people around the world.
  • Rethink clothing brands in particular. Fast fashion gathered pace from the end of the 1990’s when brands began to look for new ways to increase profits, and it’s a problem which is ever increasing, with building pressure on supply chains. Check out some ethical and sustainable fashion brands like Know the Origin https://knowtheorigin.com/, Charis Esther Hand Embroidery https://www.charisesther.com/ and People Tree http://www.peopletree.co.uk/. And use charity shops more!
  • Keep up to date with what’s going on in legislation so you can be in touch with your MP. This week saw the launch of the freeforgood.org.uk website in support of Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. The Bill will give trafficked people in England and Wales a guaranteed right to support in law, not just in the initial period but with the option of a further 12 months afterwards. The website has lots of information about the Bill, stories from survivors and a feature that lets you contact your MP with a pre-written draft email about the Bill to highlight its potential for positive change. Just enter your postcode and the site will send an email on your behalf to your MP. You can change the text or add your own thoughts if you want to.(Click here).
  • Stay engaged.  A few of us from Treated Right will be going to a dance show and talk on Saturday night – ‘Just Sex’ – to learn more about where Cambridge fits into the sex trade… why not join us?

As we look towards the future it can be hard or discouraging sometimes when the change which we long for doesn’t seem to be taking place. Let’s turn frustration into reflection and discouragement into action.

We’re looking to grow and widen our impact this year. Why don’t you too?

That’s one way to start off your new year right.

Someone in the Crowd

In 2012 Barack Obama said of human trafficking: “It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.”[1]

I think it’s a challenge which is helpful, because it brings into sharp juxtaposition an individual responsibility, and a collective one. The global trafficking problem is on such a huge scale that if things are going to change it’ll require huge engagement..

But it takes a community of individuals, in which every person cares, counts and contributes, to make such a collective.

Let’s take a moment to look at the numbers involved.

This week I compiled some figures from the September 2017 report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation. It’s worth a caveat that numbers are difficult and differing, because this is a ‘hidden crime’ and definitions vary.

But here are a few statistics to highlight key areas:

  • An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery.
  • Of these, 16 million (64%) are exploited for labour, 4.8 million (19%) are sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) are exploited in state-imposed forced labour.
  • 71% of trafficking victims around the world are women and girls.
  • 5 million victims (25%) are children.
  • The Asia-pacific region accounts for the largest number of forced labourers— 15.4 million (62% of the global total), followed by Africa with 5.7 million (23%), then Europe and Central Asia with 2.2 million (9%).
  • It really is true that sex sells. 19% of victims are trafficked for sex, but sexual exploitation earns 66% of the global profits of human trafficking. The average annual profits generated by each woman in forced sexual servitude is $100,000.
  • There were only 9,071 convictions for trafficking globally in 2016.[2]

Those numbers are nothing short of appalling.

And I wonder if sometimes statistics can numb our capacity to care – I struggle to imagine a crowd of 1000 people. So what do I do with a statistic like 5.5 million children?

Maybe here, too, we find a tension between the collective and the individual.

Because surely the moment we let individual lives be subsumed under this huge, unimaginable collective – the moment that we neatly package stories of suffering into tidy statistics – our thinking is on dangerous ground. We cease to see people as individuals, but numbers. And to take that image to its full, horrific extension is to see 24.9 million people with barcodes scrawled upon on their skin.

We’ve got to understand the figures to grasp the scale of the problems, but maybe then we need to ask how we make space to care about those affected.

And maybe an answer is that we start by caring about the one. We let ourselves hurt for the single life that was stolen and sold – the one girl whose childhood was robbed, hopes snatched, body damaged, health wrecked, future lost. We weep for the one girl, because she was made for so much more. Because how dare it be the case that her utter beauty, her worth and preciousness were stripped down to the $100,000 she will make for the sex trade annually.

4.8 million people are being sexually exploited.

But may we never, ever stop agonising over the one.

And maybe this is the moment to ask what part you and I will play in this. We’re each just a ‘one’ in this huge problem.

In future weeks we’ll look at this in greater depth, but perhaps you might review the way that you give. Maybe you work out your slavery footprint, ask who picked your tomatoes or made your clothes, or look at the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Maybe you write a letter to lobby policy makers… or maybe you do any combination of the above, but invite 10 others to join you.

You are one, but you have so much power as an influencer and you’re a part of a collective.

We’re looking at statistics in the millions.

Let’s make the ones count.

 

 

[1] According to the 2017 State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report

2] In an address at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York, September 25, 2012.

 

A Closer Look

Sometimes we’re very good at only seeing what we want to.

Walking into Sainsbury’s, my eyes always home straight in on the cookie section, and somehow manage to bypass the bargain fruit. Or upon spotting a dog down the road, I’ll become totally oblivious to other people/lamp-posts, often with disastrous effects.

It’s something psychologists refer to as ‘selective perception’. I wonder if it’s actually made worse by the age in which we live, where customised ads and ‘suggested for you’ boxes create an online experience designed to draw us in. And where a little notification from our phones distracts us for the next half hour.

It’s easy to filter out the things we don’t want to see, because there’s so much we’d rather look at.

But what about when the things going unnoticed truly, deeply matter?

Human trafficking has been one of those things for me.

I found the prospect so horrific as a teenager that I didn’t give it more than a cursory glance, but this summer I decided that wasn’t good enough any more. I watched a documentary about the global sex trade: ‘Nefarious: Merchant of Souls’, and, in all honesty, I couldn’t quite handle it. Halfway through I hit pause, shut my laptop, and just cried and cried. Then I thought about the mere fact that I could press pause and look away when millions of people are living this as their reality, and I cried more.

Every time I walk into the chapel in my college, I walk past a huge statue of William Wilberforce, who did his undergrad here from 1776-81. (Sometimes that statue prompts a little feeling of inadequacy when all I’ve achieved that day is return an unread library book and do some overdue laundry.)

One of Wilberforce’s own inspirations and closest colleagues was a man called Thomas Clarkson, who really startled to grapple with the slave trade as a student, during his own undergrad at John’s. It’s a wonderful thought, that these young fresh-outta-uni graduates saw something they wanted to change and fought for it relentlessly, even though the situation seemed totally irreversible: in the early 19th century the success of Atlantic trade and commerce was inextricably linked to the expansion of the slave system. But, as Wilberforce famously said: ‘We are too young to realise that certain things are impossible… So we will do them anyway.’

In 1807 the parliamentary act which outlawed the slave trade was passed – what a huge, wonderful moment in the recognition of fundamental human rights.

And yet… last year the Home Office estimated there are around 45 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. There are more slaves today than there ever have been before. And there will be even more tomorrow.

There are a few things that come to mind when I think about Cambridge. It’s a place of immense privilege – privilege that’s open to abuse, or to be channelled into helping others.

It’s a place full of passion.

And it’s a place full of amazing people – people with different skills. That was something Wilberforce recognised and hugely valued: ‘Different persons have various modes of excellence, and we must have an eye to all.’ Wilberforce and his fellow campaigners had a great gift for seeing what every person could bring to a cause.

But perhaps their greatest strength was in helping people to see – to truly see a glimpse of what was happening in the slave trade. That clear understanding was essential in bringing their cause into the public sphere.

‘Treated Right’ is the tiniest project in the midst of a huge problem, just attempting to unpack some of what’s going on in a way that’s accessible. This is going to be a journey and a challenge to me too… and one I hope may drive us into action together. Over the next few weeks we’ll be grappling with the statistics of modern slavery, looking at the work of charities, questioning how our own lifestyles feed into exploitation, and asking where and how we can make a difference.

Alongside that, there’s a weekly baking scheme running in termtime, which involves 10 students baking weekly for 10 friends (details) to raise money for 3 charities. This is a fun and lighthearted thing to raise money, but of course I don’t ever want that to obscure the awful reality of the issues we’re raising money to fight. I want to sugar-coat the cakes, but not the harsh truths.

And so this is an invitation to join me in looking, even if that is hard. A final bit of Wilberforce wisdom says:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

So whether you are a student, employee, school goer or retired – whether you are well-educated in issues around trafficking, or if, like me, you’ve decided that now might be the time to engage, you’re invited to be a part of this with us.

In an issue where there’s so much that is wrong, we can be people who stand up for others to be treated right.

But first we have to take a look.

Will you?