We recently introduced an Ambassador programme for JIF. Our goal is to gather inspiring individuals who can start critical conversations in their communities about people in the fashion industry. We are thrilled to already have a group of brilliant people across the world who recognised JIF’s mission and are already supporting us.
We want to present some of our Ambassadors more in-depth. So, in the next few blog posts, we’ll represent individually our Ambassadors. If you want to learn more about them then keep on reading.
The first JIF Ambassador we wish to present to you is Ben Shepherd. Ben has been studying the complexities of human trafficking, sex, and labour exploitation for a number of years. He joined JIF because of his mission to raise awareness of modern slavery.
Here’s our short conversation with Ben.
Q: We know you researched slavery through your Ph.D. and working in a national anti-trafficking charity. What got you there? Why slavery?
A: I became interested in modern slavery after hearing a talk from then IJM UK Director, Terry Tennens in 2009. At the time I was completing my LLB. I started to engage with the subject and it grabbed my attention that so much exploitation was occurring. I was horrified by the brutality of the issue. But I was also at how organisations like IJM were using their experience and contacts to help deal with local issues and tackle slavery and exploitation by engaging with local policing and justice departments. I was keen to get involved somehow. I became aware of a charity called the Medaille Trust and started to speak to people on the Board including Terry. Later when I started my Ph.D. I was asked to be a trustee for the Medaille Trust and I was thrilled to be able to join the Board.
Q: Could you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?
A: I currently work in compliance and risk-based role for a global organisation. My role is very different from the work I was carrying out with the Medaille Trust and different from my study. However, I think I sort of fell into this current line of work and have remained in the legal and compliance sector. I am glad I had the opportunity to work in the charity sector for 6 years, and to meet some amazing people who continue to work tirelessly for the cause.
Q: What got you interested in fashion?
A: I wouldn't say I am particularly interested in fashion per se, but from conversations with Sharon whilst working with her on the Medaille Board, I was intrigued to hear how people in the garment manufacturing process were being exploited around the world. A lot of the victims we encountered at Medaille were victims of sexual exploitation and labour exploitation, male and female, but predominantly from across the Eastern block of Europe, so this was a new area that I hadn't previously encountered.
Q: What do you think the role of fashion is today?
A: I am certainly no expert in the fashion industry, but I believe that fashion can do a lot of good. There is a balancing act to be played so that there is the equity between the producers and sellers of fashionable goods. Perhaps it is important for the bigger labels and retailers to push for higher standards, better pay, and working conditions for the workers at the manufacturing level.
Q: What does justice mean for you?
A: Justice is equity - fairness, and opportunity; not allowing the strong to exploit the weak for their gain, providing opportunities to individuals to learn, and to work so that they can provide for their families and have a good standard of living. I like the approach of the economist, Joseph Stiglitz, in that respect. I also think justice is about having the ability to have one's voice heard. When people are silenced, that is an acute form of injustice.
Q: We are seeing people becoming more aware of modern slavery, especially in fashion. Is this a good thing? And what can we do with this?
A: I think awareness is very important, but in isolation, it is not enough to help solve the problem. I think there needs to be a call to action, otherwise, awareness just fades and we become apathetic. It is easy to see images of slavery and be horrified but not do anything about it - indeed, not know where to begin. I think the fact is that we all feel a bit helpless most of the time and instead we focus on problems we can solve.
Thank you Ben for finding the time to talk to us! You can follow Ben on his Twitter or connect with him via LinkedIn.
Until the next one,