A worker-first approach for sustainable fashion

Fashion is about imagination, creativity and self-expression. But behind the scenes it is also back-breaking work with little respite for the garment workers that produce our clothes. And far from the creative hub of a designer’s small studio, fashion these days is a giant industry convincing us to buy ever more and amassing huge profits at the expense of workers and the planet.

The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions – that’s more than international aviation and shipping combined, and 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution. It is evident that to tackle the climate crisis, this needs to stop. We need to address the industry’s business model – but to do so, it’s vital to centre the experiences of garment workers.

Why are garment workers’ rights the key to re-imagining the fashion industry?

Firstly, progress on global sustainability goals can only be achieved if we move on all of them, and that includes work on poverty, decent work and economic security. But it is also the communities where garment production is situated that are on the frontline of the climate crisis.

Garment production has radically shifted towards the global south in the last 50 years in a largely successful attempt from fashion brands to take advantage of a globalising economy and cheaper labour costs. At the same time, fashion brands insist that the complexity of their supply chains insulates them from responsibility for the conditions under which garment workers produce their clothes – the label on the fabric may be theirs, but the workers sewing it on and paid a poverty wage are not recognised as the brand’s worker.

Production countries compete to attract investment and maintain a business-friendly environment to the detriment of worker organising and social security, while the rules of the global economy see governments pay more to service debt than they can on social provision.

So what is to be done?

A just transition for fashion needs to not just scale back on climate emissions, but also rethink the role that the people at the heart of fashion play – and put their agency and rights at the centre of the solution. Climate justice in fashion starts with justice for garment workers.

Putting workers at the heart of a just transition does not mean as citizens in the global north we sit back and do nothing. In fact, we are ideally placed to put pressure on fashion brands to clean up their act. Our power as citizens to pressure brands and decision makers can make all the difference, through small, regular actions together in solidarity with workers who make our clothes. While brands produce in the global south to keep their costs down and to minimise scrutiny, we as citizens are all connected.

At Labour Behind the Label we work within the global Clean Clothes Campaign network to link directly to workers in production countries and raise their urgent cases and their grievances with the fashion brands that have directly benefited from their work. We give a platform to our supporters to take action to push brands in the right direction, but we also campaign for better regulation and curbing the power of corporations so workers stand a fairer chance. Our supporters organise actions and campaign for the rights of garment workers in trade unions, workplaces, schools and communities across the UK. One positive step to make a difference is to sign up to our email list and commit to using your voice to amplify workers’ demands.

We believe workers are best placed to advocate for themselves and to make change happen. Garment workers come from communities that are being pushed to the brink by the climate crisis. The profits from their labour flow towards us in the global north, while the impacts of the industry hits their homes. Beyond our consumer power we must urgently find our voice and our power as citizens to ensure a fairer distribution of the wealth and the risks in this industry.

Author: Alena Ivanova, Campaigns Lead for Labour Behind the Label

BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP IN S.T.E.A.M.D.: A PATHWAY TO INNOVATION AND SUSTAINABILITY

In the rapidly evolving world of science and technology, the need for diversity in thought, perspective, and innovation has never been more critical. Yet, women and girls still need to be represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Arts and Design (STEAMD). This disparity is not just a matter of social justice; it’s a lost opportunity for global development, innovation, and sustainability.

Understanding the Current Landscape

Despite making up half of the global population, women only account for 28% of the workforce in STEAMD fields, according to data from UNESCO. This gap starts early, with girls often discouraged from pursuing math and science in school due to stereotypes and a lack of role models. The result is a talent pipeline that leaks potential female STEAMD innovators at every stage, from education to career.

Barriers to Entry for Marginalised Girls

The barriers for young women in STEAMD are numerous and interlinked. They range from societal and cultural norms that steer girls away from science and tech fields to educational systems that do not encourage participation in these areas. Furthermore, workplace environments in STEM fields often perpetuate gender biases, lack of mentorship, and unequal growth opportunities, contributing to high attrition rates among women.

The Change we’re Making at iamtheCODE

iamtheCODE is the first African-led global movement to mobilise governments, the private sector, philanthropic foundations, investors and civil society to advance STEAMED (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, Entrepreneurship, and Design) education. Its goal is to mobilise these groups to invest in future technologies that can drive sustainable development for women and girls in marginalised communities. We aim to enable 1 million young women and girls coders by 2030.

Through the iamtheCODE Academy, which was started by Senegalese-born British entrepreneur Lady Marieme Jamme in the Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei Settlement, the movement is making a significant advancement in education and skill development in challenging environments. By offering coding classes, mentorship, and support to young women and girls, especially in marginalised communities, iamtheCODE is equipping them with valuable digital skills and empowering them to become innovators and leaders in the tech space.

Why More Women in STEAMD Matters

Increasing women’s participation in STEAMD is not just beneficial for women; it’s essential for the planet and all its people. Diverse teams are shown to be more innovative and effective in solving complex problems. With women in STEAMD, we can ensure a broader range of perspectives in tackling significant global challenges such as climate change, healthcare, and sustainable development. Furthermore, closing the gender gap in S.T.E.A.M.D. could add up to $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025, according to a report by McKinsey & Company.

Looking Ahead with iamtheCODE 

As we move towards a more technologically advanced and interconnected world, the role of women in S.T.E.A.M.D. will only become more vital. Organisations, governments, and societies must continue to invest in breaking down the barriers that prevent women from entering and thriving in these fields. Doing so can unlock a future of more significant innovation, equality, and Sustainability. We need to invest in Infrastructure, Connectivity and Content to give young women and girls a chance in the digital sector.

Author: Lady Marieme Jamme, Founder and CEO of iamtheCODE