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PIONEERING INNOVATION IN THE CREATIVE INDUSTRY


Sustainability plays an integral role in the fashion industry by providing ecological and environmentally friendly tools and materials to sustain the world of fashion. With the garment industry already contributing to 10% of annual global carbon emissions according to statistics provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it is essential for changes to be implemented, with efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

Fast fashion companies such as Boohoo and Missguided are the main perpetrators of contributing to pollution according to the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee’s investigation into the environmental and social impacts of disposable ‘fast fashion’ in June 2018. The design process takes place in the United Kingdom and the United States, but the production and manufacturing occur in developing countries such as Bangladesh. However, exploitation has also been in effect more locally in areas such as Leicester, United Kingdom, where several violations were found at factories, resulting in the Trade Union Congress (TUC) demanding for better working conditions. Fast fashion companies utilise and exploit developing countries as regulations around pollution are often less strict, as opposed to regulations in the European Union, such as Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) which was introduced in 2007 to address the production and use of chemical substances and improve the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.

Buyers are more inclined to purchase products from manufacturers who highlight the importance of the words ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ and are able to execute this effectively when put into practice. As the demand for sustainability increases, manufacturers are eager to take the necessary steps in providing ecologically sustainable products for their consumers. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic threatening global trade flows, nearshoring has become the appealing method in distributing products. Nearshoring allows the transfer of business operations between nearby and neighbouring countries, as opposed to distant countries, thus rapidly reducing the carbon emissions caused by shipping. Furthermore, nearshoring focuses on providing value to the client whilst offering a higher return on investment, instead of aiming to provide the lowest possible rates (Tiempo Development, 2020). However, nearshoring does have its negatives with it being less cost effective in comparison to trading with offshore partners, such as China, which offers low wage rates for their millions of workers, cheap loans, lands and factories, and have few workers’ rights laws (Fishman, 2006).


Although trading via nearshoring is less cost-effective, it will impact the annual carbon emissions substantially, which has the potential to lessen annual carbon emissions substantially, which will hopefully result in a positive net impact in the fashion industry and for the environment. It is vital for all contributors in the garment industry to participate in reducing their carbon footprint to ensure that sustainability practices are in full effect. This includes buyers ensuring that they purchase from manufacturers who use sustainable criteria when generating clothing, as well as consumers being more commercially aware of the companies that they purchase from. With all contributors making environmental commitments, the venture of sustainable fashion production and retail will come into fruition, providing a greener future for fashion.



REFERENCES:

BBC News. 2020. Fast fashion must give 'better deal' for Leicester factory workers. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-53892765> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. 2018. UK: Environmental Audit Committee investigates sustainability of fashion industry - Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. [online] Available at: <https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/uk-environmental-audit-committee-investigates-sustainability-of-fashion-industry/> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Fishman, T., 2005. China, Inc.. New York: Scribner.

Fleischmann, M., 2019. How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment?. [online] The World Bank. Available at: <https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-


ambiente#:~:text=Every%20year%20the%20fashion%20industry,needs%20of%20five%20million%20people.&text=The%20fashion%20industry%20is%20responsible,flights%20and%20maritime%20shipping%20combined.> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Petter, O., 2019. Boohoo and Missguided among worst offenders in sustainability inquiry. [online] The Independent. Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fast-fashion-boohoo-missguided-brands-sustainability-environmental-audit-committee-2019-a8754496.html> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Tiempo Development. 2020. Nearshoring Benefits & Disadvantages | Tiempo Dev. [online] Available at: <https://www.tiempodev.com/blog/nearshoring-benefits-disadvantages/> [Accessed 7 April 2021].






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Marks & Spencer have recently released a report addressing issues and solutions in their supply chain. In 2018, they partnered with Oxfam to understand the reality of workers and suppliers beyond audits and management. With no room for complacency, Marks & Spencer focused on workers’ experiences, in-work poverty, and gender equality.


Oxfam was allowed to interview 390 workers in Marks & Spencer footwear industry in India and food manufacturing sites in the UK. This gap analysis captured the real struggles experienced by workers in their supply chain. It allowed Marks &Spencer managers to learn that workers were ineffectively voicing their concerns, receiving inadequate sick pay, and experiencing few fair and transparent job progression processes


The study also discovered in-work poverty, gender discrimination, and poor communication between managers and workers. These issues had not previously been revealed due to the fear of repercussion in voicing concerns. All the while, workers explained that if they believed nothing would change if they spoke up then they remained silent. Oxfam was able to glean new information by building trust with workers. Interviews were often held away from job sites, workers were promised anonymity, and were reassured they could speak freely without any negative consequences. This allowed workers to talk about issues never revealed before in audits or to management.


These interviews gave Marks & Spencer managers key insights, such as how their skilled leather workers were still experiencing poverty despite earning more than the minimum wage. The disconnect of the information received by Marks & Spencer managers from third-party audits and worker report also revealed different points of conflict. These conflicts were caused by gendered norms, caste discrimination, and low income. Oxfam uncovered that in six Indian sites men were paid more than women despite doing the same job. All the while, workers reported only earning about 5,000-7,500 rupees a month- well beneath the living wage of 21,000 rupees trade union leaders demanded from the Indian government.



During the study, Oxfam was also able to discover different solutions to these points of conflict. Suggestions included that Marks & Spencer provide stable job opportunities, freedom of agency work, and higher wage rates. These solutions would not only help many workers across Marks & Spencer supply chain, but it would uphold their high standards in sustainability reporting, as previously seen in their Plan A. However, Marks & Spencer has explained that global and cross-industry effort is needed to make effective change. This is important in light of fast fashion brands failing to be sustainable and ethical. In August 2020, audits revealed that 18 Leicester factories producing clothing for Boohoo were not paying workers minimum wage. They were also not having workers clock in and out, which meant workers were not only receiving less than minimum wage but also working excessive hours with no official records to keep track. In addition, workers provided allegations of discrepancies in records of hours worked, no use of computerized timesheets, and the presence of issues in safety and health policies.



· Marks & Spencer’s report with Oxfam demonstrates the need for clear and transparent business processes and clear communication within their supply chain.

· It also shows the importance of working towards solutions and forming long term investments that create dignified jobs.


All the while, the report invites retailers to move away from relying on audits and compliance and instead recommends that their standards and business practices create positive change. It would empower workers and radically transform the fashion and food industry.


If you are interested in learning more from the real voices of garment workers, check out Justice in Fashion’s Voice Platform. In this space, stories share the issues faced by women employed in the fashion industry and those fighting for justice.




References

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/aug/28/revealed-auditors-raised-minimum-wage-red-flags-at-boohoo-factories


https://policy-practice.oxfam.org/resources/working-in-marks-and-spencers-food-and-footwear-supply-chains-621145/

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Cotton has been used for textiles since 5,000 BC, and it is still heavily present in our daily lives. Besides its widespread use for household items such as bed linen and upholstery, it remains the most widely used natural fibre in the fashion industry due to the versatility, durability, and softness of cotton fabric. We believe it is necessary to ask ourselves where the cotton in our clothes comes from, but more importantly, whose hands make it possible for us to enjoy its comforts and at what cost.


Cotton production begins with the harvesting of the cotton plant, from which the lint is picked manually or mechanically. The fibres are separated from the seeds through a process called ginning, and then cleaned and carded to align them. They are later spun into yarn, and finally weaved or knitted to obtain cotton fabric.



Due to the complexity of this process, large-scale cotton production requires a global supply chain which involves a variety of locations, processes, and of course, people. Sadly, this supply chain is rife with human rights abuses, which need to be acknowledged and addressed by all stakeholders in the apparel industry in order to support and empower the estimated 350 million workers whose income depends on this crop.



Child labour in cotton production is also prevalent in other countries; in agriculture, many children perform unpaid labour with their parents in the fields, and this sector is a key employer of migrant children who are especially vulnerable to exploitation. It has also been reported that child labour is present in other stages of the process such as in spinning mills. In 2016, a study found that about 20% of female workers in the mills in India were under 14 years old, forced to work long hours, living in company-controlled hostels and facing sexual harassment.


Both children and adults face severe health risks throughout the cotton production process.

While cultivating cotton, workers are exposed to harmful pesticides as they often lack the appropriate equipment or training to handle those substances safely. In cotton mills, exposure to cotton dust causes short and long-term health hazards, such as chronic coughs, bronchitis and byssinosis, a lung disease similar to asthma. Even during the yarn finishing processes, workers involved in textile dyeing can experience dermatitis, respiratory diseases and allergic reactions due to the chemicals found in the dyes, some of which have carcinogenic effects.



The prevalence of these issues is exacerbated by the fact that traceability along the cotton supply chain is difficult to achieve due to its complexity and opacity, posing a significant risk for all companies that take part in the trade of this commodity. However, it is possible to bring about change by challenging these harmful practices like so many workers have done around the globe.


Almas Parveen’s story is a clear example of this. She faced opposition from some members of her community when she decided to take over her elderly father’s cotton farm instead of following the usual custom in Pakistan and deferring the farm’s management to a male farmer, but she stood strong and was able to increase her yields and support her family. As she gained knowledge and competence, she began to train other farmers and helped them shift towards more sustainable farming practices, increasing their benefits and gaining their respect and appreciation.


In addition to farmers, there are many other individuals involved in cotton production who can make a difference through their actions. For over a decade, Mehmet has been a labour contractor who provides temporary workers with employment opportunities in cotton farms in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. During his early years in this role, he was unaware of many local regulations and followed traditional practices, such as hiring the workers’ children together with their parents and charging workers 10% of their earnings to make a living himself. After participating in a training project that seeks to engage farmers, workers and contractors to improve working conditions in the local cotton farms, he stopped hiring children, registered all his workers to offer them a contract and decent wages, and began earning commission from the farms’ owners instead of the workers.



These stories showcase how cooperation and training can empower cotton workers to improve their own working conditions and support others in their community to do the same. As consumers, learning about the people behind our cotton garments is a crucial step towards driving change, and Justice in Fashion aim to facilitate this to enable us to make more informed choices.


References

Anti-Slavery International (n. d.) Cotton Crimes: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Available at: https://www.antislavery.org/what-we-do/uzbekistan-turkmenistan/

Anti-Slavery International (2019) Forced Labour Tainted Cotton: from Turkmenistan via Turkey. Available at: https://www.antislavery.org/forced-labour-tainted-cotton-from-turkmenistan-via-turkey/#:~:text=Cotton%20picking%20is%20an%20arduous,in%20squalid%20and%20unsanitary%20conditions (Accessed: 13 January 2021).

Better Cotton Initiative (2018) Female Farmer Becomes a Role Model in Pakistani Cotton Community. Available at: http://stories.bettercotton.com/Almas-Parveen/index.html (Accessed: 13 January 2021).

Better Cotton Initiative (2018) Improving Working Conditions for Farm-Workers in Şanlıurfa. Available at: http://stories.bettercotton.com/Sanliurfa/index.html (Accessed: 13 January 2021).

Common Objective (2018) Fibre Briefing: Cotton. Available at: https://www.commonobjective.co/article/fibre-briefing-cotton#:~:text=Cotton%20is%20a%20natural%20fibre,seeds%20of%20the%20cotton%20plant. (Accessed: 13 January 2021).

International Labour Organisation (2016) Child Labour In Cotton. Available at: https://www.ilo.org/ipecinfo/product/download.do?type=document&id=29655 (Accessed: 13 January 2021).

Nagaraj, A. (2016) “Scale of child slavery ‘shocking’ in India's spinning mills: research”. Thomson Reuters Foundation, 22 December. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-textiles-workers/scale-of-child-slavery-shockingin-indias-spinning-mills-research-idUSKBN14B231 (Accessed: 13 January 2021).


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