WHY FASHION MATTERS
When you open your wardrobe to get dressed in the morning, social justice probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind; but as one of the world’s largest industries, fashion has the power – and the responsibility – to transform the lives of millions of workers across the world. The apparel and textile sector is one of the largest industries in the world, and one that we all take part in, whether you buy your clothes online or in store, and from couture to fast fashion. Fashion cuts across so many of the Global Goals: from Gender Equality (5) and Decent Work (8) for the millions of people working in textile and garment factories to the responsibility of brands and buyers to adhere to the principles of Sustainable Consumption and Production (12).
While globalisation and increasing interdependence between countries all over the world has led to greater cooperation, opportunities and development in many cases, the impact on global production and consumption has left many millions of people behind: in low paid jobs in unhealthy and sometimes dangerous environments, and with little power to demand employers hold up their human rights.
Today is World Day of Social Justice, a UN day that calls on all countries to ensure that everyone has access to full employment in decent work, without fear of insecurity, exclusion and inequality – and the fashion industry is no exception..
“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying” – Lucy Siegle, journalist
Fast fashion has become a hot topic in many countries, with consumers and producers alike becoming more conscious of the negative connotations it has, from its reliance on underpaid labour through to unsafe factories, and environmental degradation – issues that fall under the Goals of No Poverty (1), Decent Work and Life on Land (15). It’s easy to put fashion’s glaring social justice problems at the door of fast fashion, but the problems aren’t exclusive to cheap clothes. Luxury brands are some of the worst offenders when it comes to supply chains that rely on exploitation.
Globally, we are buying more clothes than ever before – 60% more than we were two decades ago – so brands at both ends of the price spectrum compete to produce new collections at faster rates, in turn driving competition between factories in the supply chain to turn around garments at speed, often at the cost of workers’ rights and safety.
Image: Rio Lecatompessy
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness” – Mahatma Gandhi
The pandemic has only served to make the lives of the millions of vulnerable workers in the fashion industry even more difficult: unpaid wages, union busting and mass firings have been the response of many companies – often with revenues running into the millions – when retailers cancelled orders for goods that had already been made. Workers who managed to keep their jobs were forced to choose between catching Covid or missing out on wages, with those who did catch Covid not granted sick pay.
Brands, retailers and factories must shoulder the responsibility of addressing fashion’s key issues: from bad contracts and poverty wages to the exploitation of migrant workers and gender discrimination, the industry cannot continue to make billions in profit from a model that monetises injustice. Furthermore, as consumers increasingly seek ethical and sustainable options when shopping for clothes, it is in the industry’s self-interest to revolutionise how those clothes are made.
“Demand quality not just in the products you buy, but in the life of the person who made it” — Orsola de Castro, designer and cofounder of Fashion Revolution
As consumers, we as individuals also have a responsibility to find out – where we can – who makes our clothes and howtheir lives are impacted by our choices. We can demand fair wages and safe working environments with the power of our wallets, choosing to shop with brands that commit fully to justice for their employees. We can also raise our voices by joining the Clean Clothes Campaign in telling the industry to pay workers, end forced labour and be transparent in who makes the clothes they sell. Today, and every day, consumers can show the fashion industry that social injustice is not a fair price for a new outfit.
The good news is that ethical practises in the production, selling and buying of garments can have a real impact on the many of the Global Goals: alleviating poverty and gender inequality, improving health outcomes, creating safe working environments, reducing inequalities, and taking climate action that protects life on land and below water. The fashion industry has a real opportunity to promote justice for both people and planet, so that we can all live healthier, happier, more sustainable lives – all while being well dressed.
This blog was written by Lydia Paynter, Comms and Campaigns Officer at Project Everyone.
Banner image: Arturo Rey