London Fashion Week’s #PositiveFashion must include #GarmentWorkersRights

Sustainability has become a buzz word in fashion, so much so that London Fashion Week 2019 is dedicating a whole exhibition area to #PositiveFashion, a space in which to “explore the most compelling stories around sustainability.”

As more and more fashion brands link their collections with the words ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’ and ‘conscious’ in their attempts to woo ethically-conscious consumers, we need to examine what they mean by such terms. For example, Zara’s recent promise to make its clothes from 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025 will never truly amount to a sustainable brand because their concept of sustainability is not holistic: they may focus on sustainably produced viscose but ignore the ethical responsibility to respect the human rights of the people who produce their clothes. Any pledge to be sustainable must not be restricted to only one element of the business but must also include the human rights of garment workers.

We are facing an unprecedented climate emergency and calls are growing for a boycott of the fashion industry. There is no negating the urgency of the need to reform one of the most polluting and exploitative industries in the world. Both people and planet are treated as commodities to be used at will, and this must change. By its very nature, fast fashion as a business model can never be sustainable. It is built on the concept of buying cheap, wearing once, and throwing away. No garment worker can be paid a living wage if the t-shirt cost only £1.50, and the landfills of the world are filling up with discarded clothes. Fast fashion must be overhauled in its entirety, however in terms of reforming the wider fashion industry, boycotting is not the only way to achieve change.

Binding legal mechanisms, while not as catchy or immediately accessible as a concept, are a way to ensure lasting reform in the industry and a means to hold brands accountable should they fail to act responsibly. In a world where profit, and the accumulation of it, rules, a boycott may achieve some aims but it will not bring about the definitive change that is necessary. If we collectively use our voice to push for binding legislation we can demand mandatory transparency throughout the industry. This is a vital step as currently the fashion industry operates in the shadows, and it is this lack of transparency that allows abuses to continue unchecked. It is only with mandatory transparency that workers, campaigners, governments and consumers can see what action brands are really taking to protect people and planet, and it only with mandatory transparency that we can ensure that profit is not, once again, trumping over ethics.

Global fashion brands cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Time and again they have proven this, with deadly results. The list of garment industry tragedies is long and bloody, and includes Rana Plaza, where 1,134 people were killed; the factory fire at Ali Enterprise in which 289 people lost their lives; and the Tazreen factory fire where at least 112 people died, as well as many more. The current checks in place in the global industry amount to voluntary initiatives, whereby brands employ social auditing companies to fulfill their corporate social responsibility. Social auditing is a multi-billion pound industry with a de facto aim to protect the reputation and profits of fashion brands, not their workers, as illustrated in a new report published this week by Clean Clothes Campaign. Pressure grows for brands to prove their sustainable credentials in terms of the environment and, without binding legislation in place, we can expect more meaningless certificates designed to boost a brand’s image while doing little in reality to change anything.

The fashion industry must not be allowed to control the narrative around sustainability and ethics on their terms. We must not let sustainability become another way for fashion brands to sell clothes. There must be action behind the words, otherwise it becomes yet another empty slogan used for marketing purposes. London Fashion Week is promoting the use of #PositiveFashion so lets help them by reclaiming it together, and showing the industry that we want real #PositiveFashion that includes #GarmentWorkersRights. We demand that garment workers rights are upheld, that living wages are paid and that people and planet are prioritised over profit. Please join us in making sure that sustainability is truly on the agenda during this London Fashion Week and beyond.

#PositiveFashion includes #GarmentWorkersRights and #Transparency or #WhatAreYouHiding?


Authored by Ilana Winterstein, Clean Clothes Campaign for Medium

September 16th, 2019