include - APP/views/blogs/index.ctp, line 43
View::_render() - CORE/cake/libs/view/view.php, line 665
View::render() - CORE/cake/libs/view/view.php, line 375
Controller::render() - CORE/cake/libs/controller/controller.php, line 808
Dispatcher::_invoke() - CORE/cake/dispatcher.php, line 229
Dispatcher::dispatch() - CORE/cake/dispatcher.php, line 193
[main] - APP/webroot/index.php, line 88
Is corporate collaboration the key to solving our high street’s ethical fashion dilemma?
Of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which include halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education in time for 2015 – promoting gender equality and empowering women comes third on the list.
This traditionally low-priority issue ranks so highly in our development goals because women in the workplace equates to social equality and justice, but its importance is actually far more significant.
National economic development, business growth through female led companies, increased small / mid size businesses (SMEs), market diversification and a creation of wealth that can infiltrate families, communities and even continents are just some of the resulting phenomena.
As Penny Fowler, Head of Private Sector Advocacy at Oxfam, points out:
'Gender inequality is the biggest barrier to poverty eradication worldwide. There is a direct correlation between equal opportunities and strong economies across the globe.'
Earlier this week I was lucky enough to listen to Penny speak along with Dr Susan Mboya at the Business Fights Poverty seminar on advancing Gender Equality through Business and Partnership. Dr Mboya is Group Director of Eurasia Africa Women’s Economic Empowerment for the Coca-Cola Company.
Now here is a brand that’s been around the block a few times. Two-thirds of Coca-Cola consumers are women and in Africa the vast majority of transactions take place via small businesses run by women. In Ghana 70% of all sales take place through female-run small businesses (Coca-Cola Africa Foundation Community publication, Issue 04).
Coca-Cola understand that for their brand to be truly empowered then the women who sell their product and consume their product must also be empowered. The logic is surprisingly simple.
Coca-Cola’s ‘5 BY 20’ initiative is committed to empowering 5 million women by 2020, connecting female entrepreneurs with what they require in order to succeed. This breaks down into several categories.
• Access to retail assets such as chillers
• Access to technology such as solar panels and electronic billing
• Access to business skill training to grow their business
• Access to finance using the IFC to underwrite loans at the local level to reduce interest rates
• Access to a mentor and peers
The concept that Coca-Cola have so expertly grasped is that if they are to reach their own business vision of doubling servings from 1.5 billion (yes billion) per day in 2010 to 3 billion by 2020, then they need to find new ways of creating sustainable business. Coca-Cola has seen proven results that women have a lower failure rate in business, as they tend to reinvest considerably more in their businesses and in the social cohesion of their staff. They are also indispensable in distributing the product in otherwise inaccessible areas (Coca-Cola Africa Foundation Community publication, Issue 04).
Speaking at the same event Marie Staunton, CEO of Plan UK, explained how chocolate brands such as Nestlé are reaping the rewards of a recent initiative in Pakistan, where women run 93% of agriculture. Unsupported, these women have historically had to sell their produce on to middle men who take advantage of the situation by marking up the price and watering down the product. Plan has given these women access to the tools needed to sell directly to the brand at a higher price, but with superior quality. Nestlé achieves a better product at the same cost and the women are able to reinvest their tri-fold profit. Their status within the home begins to rise as they provide for their families reliably and effectively. Convergence is the ultimate result, which means that this story replicates and strengthens for generations to come.
Marie points out we desperately need developing economies to grow to achieve economic stability in the rest of the world, a point corroborated by Bill Gates in his recent report for the G20 summit. She comments on the need for persistence and the vital role of the corporate to look beyond what has always been done and look at how things could be done for the benefit of both the producer and consumer.
This got me thinking. What better vehicle could exist to achieve this 'top 3' MDG than bringing about effective legislation in the garment industry?
The garment industry accounts for 78% of Bangladesh’s economy and 85% of the workers are women – mostly rural migrants who have never had access to education. Many of these women have virtually no knowledge about their rights or how to succeed and develop their careers in the workplace. Could the high street learn a thing or two from these emerging collaborations?
Rob Schuham of Common believes collaboration is the new competition – sustainable capitalism where every part of the machine profits. A collaborative brand opens up its value and shares it with its customer, its stakeholders, and its future generations. If Coca-Cola has been around for 120 years and yet half its market capitalisation appears to be made up of brand value, don’t our dearly beloved high street chains have some value to share out?
Retailers such as Gap, Timberland, M&S and Wal-Mart have all taken steps to collaborate with and empower women, mainly through education and training. The immediate results include women:
• Demonstrating more willingness to take on responsibilities
• Assuming leadership roles
• Communicating more effectively at work and at home
• Showing improved ability to solve workplace problems
• Being better able to support their peers
• Gaining more respect from their family members
• Inevitably feeling more respect for themselves
Increased productivity, superior quality control, and a happy, healthy workforce giving back to their communities outside of the workplace, means no sacrifice is needed from the retailers – just a respectful sharing of expertise and resources.
Women currently influence over 70% of global household purchases, with 40% of the global workforce being made up of women (Coca-Cola Africa Foundation Community publication, Issue 04). There is an enormous well of talent and resource out there that if nurtured thoughtfully, could grow a ripple effect of positive change throughout the global economy.
The high street represents the realm of the female.
Steely-faced mannequins ooze attitude, mimicking the throngs of self-made style queens passing below. Fashionistas, Super Mums, high-powered businesswomen, savvy hipsters, you name it – even the retail brand directors and global buyers are women. Across the 8 years of my career as a buyer I never worked on a floor with more than 10% of employees being male.
And amongst the hordes of relentless, image-hungry consumers, flitter the next generation. These ever-younger females seek to emulate the mass of images broadcast at them every day – suggesting that to be a success is to be a beauty. To be a beauty one MUST have style. To have style one MUST shop. And what does any woman worth her salt know better than to shop?
Yep us ladies sure rule the high street. This is today’s modern society, where to be female is to communicate power and freedom through our personal interpretation of the trends of our ever-deepening jungle. We pick our tribe and represent it daily through the clothes we choose to wear. We support our faltering economy with feverous solidarity. Queens of the shops, rulers of our domain; we walk to the beat of our own drum.
But there is an irony that escapes us on an almost daily basis. There is a glaring inequality that has been born almost entirely out of the female pursuit of equality over the past 100 years.
The irony that a huge proportion of the garment workers involved in the 46 billion pound a year British fashion industry are, in fact, women. Underpaid, exploited, harassed, and discriminated against, women. They suffer unspeakable violations of their human rights, making products that will be bought religiously on the other side of the hemisphere, by other women.
The cruel truth is that very few people actually benefit from this anxiety provoking 21st Century condition. The economy appreciates the increased purchasing fundamentals and the government enjoys its now increased rate of 20% VAT from each transaction. The business owners and shareholders of the largest retailers can find themselves in the top percentile of rich lists, although the industry is so notoriously fickle even they are running into hard times.
But what of the individual consumers like you and me? Weighing down our precious wardrobes with burdensome items that are incredibly hard to dispose of, but often never worn after the season in which they were bought. For myself these purchases have often made up for 80% of my closet. Do I feel better when I buy them - yes. Does the feeling last, contributing to an increase in my quality of life - sadly, no.
And what of the individual producers like Moni, a woman the same age as myself?
Moni and I share some similarities. We are both women in our early thirties. We enjoy spending time with our family and friends. We often wonder what life would be like had circumstances been different. We feel nostalgic about our distant youth. We aspire to be greater than we are…
Moni started supporting her family at the age of 14. I spend my money as I choose. The longest day I ever worked was 13hours, usually 9. Moni works 18hour shifts regularly and begins her day at 5am. Maternity leave is standard in my workplace. Moni was not entitled to maternity leave. Instead her managers would shout obscenities at her or threaten to fire her for needing the bathroom. I receive a living wage directly into my bank the last day of each month. Moni has no guarantee she will receive her wage if business has been slow. Moni and her family’s only shelter is a fragile shack in a slum that is often flooded, where one toilet is shared between 90 people. My tiny one bed in Tufnell Park is warm and cosy.
A Cambodian garment worker is carried to an ambulance after fainting at a factory in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Samrang Pring/Reuters
OK you get the picture. But it’s not a comparative thing as my beloved boyfriend often tries to tell me. It’s true that Moni is more resilient than I am due to her circumstances. She is undoubtedly capable of working longer hours than I am. She can survive on much less money than I can and would be far more stunned by luxurious clothes, cars or restaurants. But even Moni is aware that the conditions in which she works and lives ARE disgraceful. Not just by our standards, but by hers also. Bangladeshi workers have been revolting against their humanitarian hardship since 2006. Even in their comparable standard of living – this is totally unacceptable.
So why are women funding this frenzy? Why are we comfortable exploiting vulnerable women; women suffering the same discrimination we faced ourselves in this country only 100 years ago?
When we pull on your jeans/ jeggings/ treggings tomorrow, let’s spare a second thought to the worker who stitched them, who, like Moni, works so hard to create the clothes we desire so badly. And let’s hope that for all her hard work and dedication, she’ll be able to feed her family tonight.
Add your name below to hear more about how you can take action to promote more ethical purchasing decisions.
What is your response to suggestions that Fairtrade is "not so fair" - making Fairtrade farmers dependent on the premiums from a relatively small western market.
We’ve done a lot of research into the impact of Fairtrade – working with institutions like University of Greenwich Natural Resources Institute, and the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University to conduct independent assessments. These studies are really helpful in showing what is working and what needs to be changed or improved.
Groups that have been able to sell a reasonable amount on Fairtrade terms have been able to make some really good progress in tackling some of the problems they face – whether that’s community services like schools, health centres, clean water, or business improvements like getting more expert farming advice, or buying new equipment to improve product quality. In many cases, farmers groups have been able to get matched funding for their projects, combining Fairtrade premiums with government or other business funding.
One issue that producer groups do face is what happens if their sales on Fairtrade terms fall – so for example, a lot of companies have switched their sourcing from West African cotton to Indian cotton, partly because it is easier to process. We’re looking at that problem and trying to find solutions, working with the businesses and the producers. But ultimately we need people to keep asking for Fairtrade products, and demanding that companies do more to ensure their business is fighting poverty too.
The future doesn’t just lie in Western markets like the UK. We’re working to build new markets – both in the North, in places like Korea or Poland, and in the South. There’s now a Fairtrade label in South Africa, and Kenya has its first Fairtrade products. In the future we’re hoping to see more South-South trade open up – in Brazil, India, East Africa and the Caribbean.
Fairtrade is sometimes described as good idea but its impact is far too small to fight poverty – is it more than just a few extra pennies?
There’s a great African proverb that says “If you ever think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve clearly never spent a night in a room with a mosquito.” My view is that we shouldn’t underestimate the small stuff - if a few individuals hadn’t gone out to fight for the first Fairtrade products all those years ago, we’d never be where we are today. And what might seem like a very small thing to us, can be quite a big thing for people on the other end of a supply chain.
A good example for me was last year in Ghana last year when I visited a group of women in the Akoma Cooperative – they produce shea butter. It’s quite a feat – it takes several days and about 10 different processes to get from the shea nut on the tree to the final butter but by working together, the women had turned it from a solitary into a social process. They had just received their Fairtrade premium payment for their first sales – it wasn’t much, less than $1000 in total I think. But with that money they had enrolled every woman in the cooperative into a health insurance programme – this is a massive change as often families don’t visit the clinic because they know they can’t afford the medical costs. On top of the health insurance, they had bulk bought materials to make a school uniform for one child in the family of every member, so that they could start the new school year.
These are small but meaningful changes we make by choosing Fairtrade products. But you are right that we need to tackle the bigger issues – the causes of poverty. Fairtrade isn’t just about shopping – it’s also about campaigning for wider change in the way trade is done. That’s why for the last year we’ve been campaigning about the shocking US and European cotton subsidies which are keeping West African cotton producers poor and Traidcraft and the Fairtrade Foundation are launching a campaign action to Ed Davey, the Trade Minister on the importance of keeping up promises on trade made as part of the Doha round.
Tell us about some of the exciting things that Fairtrade has in store for 2012?
We’re going to kick of a whole Year of Fairtrade in 2012 - getting people in the UK to take 1.5 million steps for Fairtrade – that’s one for every farmer and worker currently involved in the Fairtrade system. We’ve made huge progress, but we’ve worked out that still the average household only spends about £1 per week on Fairtrade products – not even the cost of a cup of coffee. If we can get people just to double that to £2 on average, we could double the impact we’re having for farmers and workers.
It can be a small step, like switching one more thing you buy to Fairtrade – so if you already buy Fairtrade bananas, but not tea, then buy tea. Or rice. Or nuts. It can be a big step – like getting everyone in your workplace or college to do something for Fairtrade. Or organising an event. Or writing to your MP on an issue of trade justice. We’re going to have loads of suggestions all through the year and The Take A Step Campaign is kicking off with Fairtrade Fortnight, 27 February – 11 March.
We’re also going to be doing more for World Fair Trade Day on 12 May, and join with people all around the world in having a Big Fairtrade Breakfast. There’ll be ideas for taking steps for Fairtrade at summer fetes and festivals too. And of course, there’s London 2012 Games which has made a commitment that all coffee, tea, sugar and bananas should be Fairtrade – we want to make sure all the companies deliver on that.
Another exciting thing is that we hope 2012 will be the year we see the first Fairtrade seafood – we’ve been working on the global standards for some time now. For example, a lot of the shrimp we buy comes from Asia or Latin America, and whilst there are some eco-standards out there, there isn’t one that is specifically supporting small scale fisheries, ensuring that there are sustainable fishing practices and fair trading relationships involved.
Want more? For up to date information on Fairtrade campaigns, news and actions for making a difference click here.
Recently, two friends excitedly showed me some new additions to their autumn/winter wardrobe – lovely, chunky jumpers and gorgeous leather boots. In the midst of an avid discussion about coats (how many winters can a coat see before it has to be replaced?), I turned the conversation to the journey these products make before they appear, gleaming and enticing, on high-street shelves.
My friends admitted not only that they had no idea where their new clothes had come from, but also that it hadn’t even crossed their mind to think about who had made their clothes – and under what circumstances – when weighing up whether to make a purchase.
Like most of us, their two deciding factors had been (a) Do I like it? and (b) Can I afford it?
How can it be that consumers pick up brightly coloured, beautifully crafted clothes in high-street shops, yet do not consider how they got to be so bright and beautiful?
The reality is that many pairs of hands will most likely have been involved in the sewing, stitching, dying and stretching of each item in our wardrobe. And while the owners of these hands are frequently subject to meagre wages, poor working conditions and forced overtime, for the most part they do not even feature in the minds of the fashion-conscious shoppers who buy the finished product.
The discussion with my friends highlighted the truth that most of us don’t know about the reality of sweatshop labour, or how to bring about change.
Part of the problem is that fashion retailers tend to be very secretive about what happens in their supply chains – so it’s difficult to know exactly what the situation is.
While some information about problems and progress is available from retailers such as the Arcadia Group (which owns Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins among many others), New Look and even Primark, hard numbers about wages paid and hours worked are simply not available.
However, not everything is shrouded in mystery. Several NGOs, such as ActionAid, Labour Behind the Label and War on Want have done a considerable amount of work into the reality of wages, conditions and rights of garment workers throughout the world.
For information about every major UK fashion retailer and their commitment to improving garment workers’ standard of living, check out Labour Behind the Label’s latest Let's Clean up Fashion Report.
For a snapshot of the lives of garment workers in one factory supplying the UK high street, read and joint report Taking Liberties.
To discover the potential impact if Asda were to pay two pence more ($0.03, AUD$0.04) on each t-shirt it buys from Indian suppliers, have a look at ActionAid’s Asda: Poverty Guaranteed report.
Seeing as you’ve read this far, you’re most likely somewhat interested in finding out what you can do to bring about ethical change in high-street fashion retailers. Here are some actions to get you started:
Become an Ethical Pest with the Ethical Trade Initiative, and take actions such as writing to fashion chain chief executives, and making contact with other ethically-minded consumers on their facebook page.
Watch this space for Global Poverty Project action on ethical fashion!
The Ethical Trading Initiative supports workers freedom, fair treatment and representation across the globe: find out more on their website
Blood Diamond is a dramatic, action-packed Warner Brothers production from 2006 about the mining of conflict or ‘blood’ diamonds in Sierra Leone - not recommended for the feint hearted. Perhaps unsurprisingly the film incorporates some typical blockbuster cliches; the surprising U-turn in attitude by one of the key characters from diamond smuggler to empathetic hero and the struggle for justice, which neatly prevails. Despite the story line itself being fictional, the film does delve into some uncomfortable realities...
Blood diamonds are those that have been mined and sold abroad to finance conflict in the region they are obtained from. The film focuses in on the trade that has been taking place in Sierra Leone, West Africa responsible for funding the civil war the country has endured. The idea of blood diamonds were first brought to public attention by Global Witness back in 1998, when they published the report 'A Rough Trade' about conflict diamonds in Angola. This sparked an international outcry that led to the development of the Kimberley Process, an international certification scheme designed to stop the trade in blood diamonds.
The film places an emphasis on the child soldiers who are taken away from their homes and recruited to join the fighting. Once recruited, they are taught to fear their leaders through violence and intimidation. These children are then armed and sent out to fight and kill. It depicts the distressing way in which these youngsters have their childhoods stripped away from them as well as giving some idea of the emotional torment they suffer as a result of their experiences having been thrust into such extreme and dangerous circumstances.
I found this a hugely moving story which has broadened my understanding as to the cost others are paying in order for us maintain the level of luxury we have become accustomed to.
Blood Diamond is entertaining as a film, and challenging as a message. I encourage you to share it with friends, to show them how our lives connect to those of some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable.
As consumers, being aware of how and where the products we buy are sourced and making decisions with these factors in mind will help prevent this kind of exploitation continuing in the future.