In remembrance of the Rana Plaza collapse five years ago and in the occasion of Copenhagen Fashion Summit this upcoming week, here is our Q&A with co-founder of Fashion Revolution, Carry Somers. The global movement is with the #whomademyclothes campaign calling for a fairer, safer, cleaner, more transparent industry, demanding decent rights for both the people and the planet. We at DANSK encourage all our readers to read and sign the Fashion Revolution manifesto for a paradigm shift now.
It’s been five years since the atrocities at Rana Plaza. What has happened since? What has become better and what is still a challenge?
The Rana Plaza factory collapse shook the fashion world and ignited a Fashion Revolution. Five years on, Fashion Revolution has seen the effect of our #whomademyclothes campaign. We have seen how the industry can and will respond to pressure from the people who buy their clothes and how transparency has become fundamental for building trust.
Five years of Fashion Revolution means five years of millions of people using their voices and their power to call for greater transparency. We are now the world’s largest fashion activism movement. And it’s working. The 2018 Fashion Transparency Index published last month ranks 150 of the world’s biggest fashion brands and retailers according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices and impact. This year 37% of brands and retailers are publishing their Tier 1 suppliers, up from 12.5% two years ago. It has become easier to find out #whomademyclothes.
The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety is a significant milestone towards better working conditions in Bangladesh, and hopefully throughout the industry. More than 1,300 factories have been inspected in Bangladesh since Rana Plaza, over 800 factories have been upgraded for safety and 1.2 million garment workers have received factory safety information.
However, the original Bangladesh Accord expires this month and around 1/3 of the 200 participating companies have yet to sign the 2018 Accord which will extend their commitment for a further three years. In our Garment Worker Diaries project, which interviewed 540 garment workers in India, Cambodia and Bangladesh every week over the course of last year, 40% of workers had seen a fire in their factory. Workers continue to risk their lives every day in order to make our clothes. We still have a long way to go until everyone who makes our clothes can live and work with dignity, in healthy conditions and without fear of losing their life. Poverty, human rights abuses, lack of union representation, unfair wages, discrimination, environmental pollution, waste and lack of transparency all remain endemic within fashion. We recognise that change will not take place overnight, but the pace of change needs to be faster. There is still much more work to do to ensure a disaster like Rana Plaza can never happen again.
The question of “what’s next?” has been the primary discourse in the fashion industry for years. What do we do with this rhetoric, in what ways should we change the way we talk about clothes and fashion?
In the UK Houses of Parliament on 23 April, we launched our Manifesto for A Fashion Revolution with a strong message demanding radical revolutionary change for the fashion industry and support for clothes that don’t exploit people or destroy our planet. We will continue, always, to talk about transparency, but that’s just the beginning of the conversation and we are ready to delve deeper. Revolutions come with manifestos and manifestos incite revolutions. We want our Manifesto to motivate as many people as possible; to be something that belongs to everyone, defying elitism and giving us all agency. We have no doubt that fashion has the potential for sustainable leadership and that systemic, meaningful change can happen if we relentlessly speak out and call for action.
Our Manifesto changes the way we talk about fashion. It lays out our vision for a cleaner, safer fashion industry, covering dignified work, fair and equal pay, freedom of association, celebrating craftsmanship, solidarity, protecting the environment, circularity, transparency and accountability, the measure of success and a celebration of life. We love fashion. But we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. Our Manifesto shows you a better future and that future can start now. Let’s rise up together and turn this dream into a reality. Please sign it!
In the Fashion Revolution Fashion Transparency index 2018 no brand or retailer is scoring above 60% of the total possible points. What information is it still hard to get a hold of and why so?
Whilst more brands are starting to publish data on their social and environmental efforts, which is welcome and necessary, there is still much crucial information about the practices of the fashion industry that remains concealed, particularly when it comes to brands’ tangible impact on the lives of workers in the supply chain and on the environment. Many brands are simply failing to take steps to ensure their policies are put into practice. Far more space on websites and company reports is still given to brands and retailers’ values and beliefs than to their actions and outcomes. When it comes to comprehensive, comparable, detailed data disclosure, the type of information that enables greater accountability, not enough is being made publicly available.
55% of brands and retailers are publishing measurable, time-bound goals on improving environmental impacts across their value chain, but only 37% are publishing goals on improving human rights. Only around half of brands are reporting on progress towards their goals and, even then, most are only reporting on environmental progress and are not disclosing their impact on the people who work in their own companies or in their supply chains. Brands need to report on their goals, and progress towards these. Without this we have no way of knowing if their policies and procedures are truly effective and driving improvements for the people making our clothes. Tragedies like Rana Plaza are preventable, but they will continue to happen until every stakeholder in the fashion supply chain is responsible and accountable for their actions and impacts.
More also needs to be done to incentivise both staff and suppliers. Just 12% of brands disclosed how employees’ incentives are tied to improvements in human rights and environmental management and 29% disclosed incentives for their suppliers tied to improvements in human rights and environmental performance.
The lowest scoring section was on traceability, with an average score of just 11%. Although we have seen good progress in publishing Tier 1 supplier, just 18% of the brands and retailers are disclosing their processing facilities and only one brand, ASOS, discloses where they source their raw materials.
Each year, we focus on different Spotlight Issues and this year we chose to go into deeper detail on Women (how brands and retailers are tackling gender-based discrimination and violence in supply chains, supporting gender equality and promoting female empowerment in its own company and in the supply chain) Workers (supporting living wages for employees and workers in the supply chain and how they’re ensuring that supply chain workers are able to unionise and collectively bargain) and Waste (textile and clothing waste and recycling and what they’re doing to move towards a circular economy). The average score in this section was just 12%.
In the Garment Worker Diaries project, we found that 60% of workers in Bangladesh reported gender-based discrimination, over 15% reported being threatened and 5% had been hit. In the Spotlight Issues section, just 13% of brands and retailers published detailed supplier guidance on issues facing female workers in their Supplier Codes of Conduct. Only a quarter of the brands surveyed report signing up to the the Women’s Empowerment Principles or publishing the company’s overall strategy and quantitative goals to advance women’s empowerment. Meanwhile, just 5% of brands are disclosing any data on the prevalence of gender-based labour violations in supplier facilities, such as sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence, or the treatment and firing of pregnant workers. If the fashion industry is to empower the women who make our clothes, as well as the women who wear them, far more work needs to be done in this area.
Can you tell us about the #WhoMadeMyClothes/ #IMadeYourClothes campaign? Why is it so powerful? What does it mean when we use it, and what else can we as consumers, fashion editorials etc. do to help the fashion revolution on its way?
Despite some progress since the Rana Plaza collapse, so much remains hidden within the fashion supply chain, largely due to its scale and complexity. Our primary focus is on transparency, because you can’t start to tackle social or environmental exploitation unless you can see it. We want to see brands, and retailers taking more responsibility for the people and communities on which their business depends.
By asking the question #whomademyclothes we are applying pressure in the form of a perfectly reasonable question that brands and retailers should be able to answer. We are asking them to publicly acknowledge the people who make our clothes. We want brands, retailers, factories, and all other stakeholders to demonstrate transparency by showing us the people who make our clothes, answering with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes.
The campaign is powerful as it gives visibility and a platform to tell the stories and celebrate the work of the people who make our clothes all around the world – the weavers, dyers, embroiderers, cotton farmers, seamstresses, spinners, union leaders. Exploitation thrives in hidden places, so the more visible the people are who make our clothes, the fewer places there are to hide poor working conditions. We don’t yet have all of our social media analysed from Fashion Revolution in April, although it looks as if we have had around 50% more posts with the #imadeyourclothes hashtag, but last April 3600 organisations posted photographs of the people who make our clothes. Our hashtags had 720 million impressions during Fashion Revolution Week this year, an increase of 35% on last year. More and more people are asking brands #whomademyclothes and more brands are responding.
The campaign is also powered by its strong visual content. Co-founder Orsola de Castro and I have come from the fashion industry not from the world of campaigning. We knew that in order to reach a wide audience, Fashion Revolution needed to use the language and visuals of fashion to engage people on social media and beyond; people who love fashion but have never before thought about the rest of the story. However, we are far more than just a hashtag campaign, activating as much offline as online and engaging with policy makers, NGOs, unions, educators and other audiences all year round and working on a variety of projects around the world.
To help Fashion Revolution on its way this year you can watch our new Who Made My Clothes? video directed by MJ Delaney, sign our Manifesto, and send a letter to a brand asking #whomademyclothes. If you want to delve even deeper into the issues, our MOOC course starting in June will explore the interdependence of places, resources, and people in fashion supply chains and introduce you to a variety of techniques to help you find out #whomademyclothes.
What is Fashion Revolution working on at the moment, what are your next moves and hopes for the future?
Over the coming months we’ll be publishing Fanzine no.3 and starting work on no.4, launching our MOOC online course, writing and filming more creative tutorials and resources, running an EU consumer survey, planning the fourth-edition of our Fashion Transparency Index which will look at 200 brands and retailers, launching a Brazilian Fashion Transparency Index, writing a White Paper, working on toolkits and policy events with the British Council in a number of countries around the world and lots more! Our hopes for the future are all summed up in our Manifesto. Please read It and sign it!
Interview by Anne Ulrikke Bak
Photo by Miguel Lopez
For more information, see Fashion Revolution