The global sustainability movement Fashion Revolution is hosting its fifth annual week-long event from April 22nd-28th.
Why is it necessary? Surely the days of exploited workers, slave labour and sweatshops are behind us? Sadly they’re not and in fact, in some instances it’s actually getting worse for garment workers. Six years after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed 1,138 garment workers, our clothes are still being made by some of the poorest, most overworked and undervalued people in the world.
A report published last week by the Worker Rights Consortium, reveals the shocking reality of repression, violent attacks and intimidation of garment workers in Bangladesh who are simply trying to campaign for a fair, living wage. These exploited workers – vital cogs in the country’s $30bn (£21bn) industry – have been asking for more money since the minimum wage was raised in November 2018 to the equivalent of $22 (£17) a week, less than 45 cents (35p) an hour.
Since last December, at least 65 workers have been arrested on false charges, while factories producing clothes for some of our favourite brands have fired and blacklisted 11,600 workers with no legal justification. According to the WRC, some have paid with their lives, shot dead by the police as retribution for speaking out.
“They are clearly betting that western brands and retailers care a great deal about prices and very little about labour standards,” says the report.
In fact, even as recently as January of this year, it was revealed that Spice Girls T-shirts sold to raise money for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made at a factory in Bangladesh where women earn the equivalent of 35p an hour during shifts in which they claim to be verbally abused and harassed, a Guardian investigation had found. The charity tops, bearing the message “#IWannaBeASpiceGirl”, were produced by mostly female machinists who said they were forced to work up to 16 hours a day, receiving far below a living wage and called “daughters of prostitutes” by managers for not hitting targets.
This is why a fashion revolution is needed. This is why it’s vital we pay attention to what big retailers are up to and why it’s more important than ever to ask the question this Fashion Revolution week: Who made my clothes?
A campaign uniting customers and workers gives you the power to help, last year 3.25 million people took part during the week to ask, #WhoMadeMy Clothes? That question, when a brand is tagged on social media with the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes?, has already resulted in major change within the industry.
This year’s theme focused on encouraging consumers to respect both people and planet via fair work policies, gender equality and environmental protection.
The textiles industry accounted for 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 in 2015. Its use of non-renewable resources – including oil to make synthetic fibres – is estimated to increase from 98m tonnes in 2015 to 300m tonnes by 2050. Dyeing and textile treatment processes contribute to 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution.
Fashion Revolution week provides a platform to urge brands to put worker welfare and safety and environmental safeguards above shareholder profit. “We have to start looking at the true cost of our clothing, because at the moment that is hidden,” says Carry Somers, who founded the campaign in the immediate aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse, alongside co-founder Orsola de Castro. “Ultimately, future generations are going to bear the cost of the unseen social and environmental impacts.”
We all have the power to make a change and this Fashion Revolution week is about demanding fair and decent conditions and pay, environmental protection and gender equality. During this period, thousands of events are being held around the world, so get involved by heading to Fashion Revolution’s events page.
We’ve also rounded up our top events:
Fashion Open Studios: As part of an ongoing initiative to educate consumers on production processes and promote transparency, countless designer studios will open their doors during Fashion Revolution Week. Highlights include a talk at Vivienne Westwood’s original store at 430 Kings Road in London, and an upcycling Mending Morning event at sustainable boutique Brigid McLaughlin in Sydney. Designer Phoebe English will also be hosting a Quilting From Waste workshop at her studio in South London. And in Berlin, Soup Archive offers visitors a space to experiment, create and repurpose their old items and factory garment leftovers. For a full list of events, see Fashion Open Studio.
Swapping Societies: The Global Fashion Exchange will host a number of swap shops during the week, with events taking place in Amsterdam, Miami, Mumbai, Los Angeles and Bangkok. These day-long events invite customers to swap unwanted items, as well as attend panel discussions and workshops on industry sustainability.
Discussing Change: Fashion Revolution week will play host to a number of pioneering talks: an audience with activist designer Katherine Hamnett in London; and in collaboration with The Victoria & Albert Museum, Fashion Question Time will discuss how innovation and sustainability will change the fashion panorama.