Fashion Question Time at the Houses of Parliament
The intense 90-minute session explored transparency within the fashion industry along with how global justice and ethical practices can be achieved for garment workers. Hosted and chaired by Mary Creagh MP, the panel included Livia Firth, Eco Age Creative Director; Antti Karhunen, from the European Commission for Sustainable Growth and Development; Jenny Holdcroft, Policy Director IndustriALL; Mike Cain, MP, shadow minister for International Development and Allanna McAspurn CEO of MADE-BY.
The panel discussion marked the start of Fashion Revolution Week 2016, a week of activities in 84 countries worldwide. Key issues on the agenda included; changes made to the global supply chain since the Rana Plaza disaster three years ago, the encouragement of EU & UK companies to disclose their supply chain locations and data and empowering women in what is the most female dominated industry in the world.
Mary Creagh MP said: “I am delighted to host the second Fashion Question Time in parliament, especially with the EU referendum on the horizon. I believe we should remain in the EU is because it is a world leader in advancing women’s rights and protections. We heard last year that the EU has worked closely with the government of Bangladesh to change employment laws and improve factory standards and inspections after the Rana Plaza tragedy. It is vital for the UK fashion industry to understand how we can punch above our weight, achieve change and improve the lives of garment workers around the globe.”
The panel agreed that the fashion supply chain was incredibly complex due to the multi-layered process of textile and garment construction. The Rana Plaza disaster revealed an incredibly ugly side of the industry – where human life was put before profit, 1,133 people died and another 2,500 were injured. The disaster marked a massive wake up call for those that work within the fashion sector. Three years on and fashion brands have fully paid into the compensation fund, 2,200 factories have since been inspected and partnerships and alliances have been set up and yet there is still plenty more to do.
(Images from top to bottom: the FQT panel with Fashion Revolution founders, FashionCapital ed JoJo Iles and Orsola de Castro with her closing statement, all images courtesy of Rachel Manns / Fashion Revolution.)
Olivia Firth was keen to point out that while inspection and legislation provided a step in the right direction for many working in Bangladesh nothing much has changed. “Not much has changed, is the short answer. While garment workers wages have increased so has the work load, with more garments expected to be produced than before.” Mike Cain added, “It’s about how we source the supply chain. If you compare the fashion industry to the Fairtrade industry for tea and coffee you can see we have a very long way to go.”
“Fashion is totally a feminist issue,” stated Olivia in response to Dorothy Maxwell’s, Head of Sustainability at House of Fraser, question on empowering female workers. Carry Somers, co-founder of Fashion Revolution adds: “Almost nobody has a clear picture as to how the fashion supply chain really works, from fibre through to disposal. In order to create a sustainable fashion industry for the future, every stakeholder in the fashion supply chain must start to take responsibility for the people and communities on which their business depends.
FashionCapital editor JoJo Iles then asked the question: “With factories based thousands of miles away and work being sub-contracted out it can be extremely difficult for a business to ensure total compliance. What incentives could governments introduce to encourage local manufacturing? While Allanna was keen to see manufacturing return to UK soil the panel felt the supply chain issue was a global one and that problems of exploitation and unethical practices could go on anywhere in the world. The crux of the matter is financially mass production will go where the labour force is cheap and the population is in desperate need of employment. However, the question of cutting down on unnecessary carbon footprints in production is a totally valid one.
Another question the panel discussed was the idea of garments having more detailed labelling but due to the complicated nature of the garment cycle it was generally agreed that it would be too difficult. As an alternative the Transparency Index was applauded as an insightful information source of fashion companies and their ethical trade grades. Adidas, H&M and Zara were a few that scored well. Allana added, “that a huge amount of the fashion industry isn’t doing enough, and it’s those doing nothing that we need to focus on.”
Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution closed the discussion by saying “the fashion industry is still in its infancy, it’s only 35-years-old, when you compare that to a 120-year-old film industry, you could say we are moving from silent to sound. We can now hear those garment workers voices.”
Fashion Revolution seeks to ignite a revolution to radically transform the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased by demanding greater transparency, with one simple question: who made my clothes?
By JoJo Iles