What role does advertising play in journalism? Who funds and controls media coverage? Why is representation so important? How are stereotypes produced and reproduced through the media? Does the medium that we use consume information matter?
And, what does any of this have to do with responsible fashion?
The Listening Post has produced a series of short animated films introducing five media theorists: Roland Barthes, Noam Chomsky, Stuart Hall, Marshall McLuhan, and Edward Said. Media Theorised is a project that calls for a critical engagement with the media, and is a nice resource to share with friends, colleagues and students.
Many of the entanglements highlighted by these theorists are brought to the surface through the project itself, with respect to how it is shared and consumed, and all of these tensions would make great topics for further discussion: for example, the fact that I am sharing this content with you through a blog post on an English-language website; that the Media Theorized project was itself developed by a media network (Al Jazeera), and that each video has little Google advertisements that pop-up, and sometimes play before the video starts—a reminder of the role of advertising in media (briefly mentioned in the Noam Chomsky piece); or the fact that you may have found this post through social media, and may be reading this content on a tablet, phone or laptop.
The panel addressed a lot of issues, including the (potential) impact of consumer boycotts and buycotts. I called on consumers to remember they are more than consumers, and to also consider/imagine alternative ways to support workers.
The event was recorded, and I’ve embedded it below for you to check out.
During the discussion, I mentioned a website I had used to calculate ‘how many slaves’ work for me. I mentioned this was an interesting tool to help consumers think through linkages, but also voiced concern that context was lacking. I realise that I never mentioned the actual name of the site, so in case you’re interested and not already familiar, here it is. Bangladeshi labour rights activist Kalpona Akter shared some thoughts on this tool with Design and Violence last year, here.
On the panel with me was Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, Karen Bowman, Director of Procurement at University of Edinburgh and Mei-Ling McNamara, a PhD Student in School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at University of Edinburgh. Chairing was Michelle Brown from the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.
We would love to hear your thoughts on modern slavery in general, but also in the unique context of the global fashion and apparel industry. Please share in the comments, or with us on Facebook or Twitter.
The initial stage of the NICE consumer project comes to an end this week and the NICE Framework for Achieving Sustainable Fashion Consumption through Collaboration will receive its final revisions during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The framework is designed to inspire action from government, industry and civil society, it also highlights areas where more discussion is needed; for example, how can we create a transparent value chain, or an environment which fosters sustainable business models and supports sustainable behaviors?
Since my last update I have attended a workshop in London, and taken part in the final webinar, Stress Testing the NICE Consumer Framework on Sustainable Consumption of Fashion. At this event there were presentations from Puma, Levi Strauss & Co., Futerra, and Vanessa Friedman from the Financial Times. The session also included a summary of the progress midway through the consultation process. Cody Sisco [BSR] spoke about the major priorities raised by participants and other important areas including supply chain transparency, and the need for increased education, understanding and collaboration. For design students out there, he also mentioned the important role designers can play in moving things forward! A full recording of the webinar is available to download at BSR.
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit
The Copenhagen Fashion Summit starts today and promises to be an exciting event, which will bring together around 900 stakeholders to discuss sustainability and CSR in the fashion industry. Organisers have been keen to include young people in these discussions and a number of student representatives from around Europe will gather today for a Youth Summit, and present the results of their discussions at the main event tomorrow. The Summit will also launch an industry specific code of conduct, a joint initiative by the UN Global Compact and NICE.
“As an industry facing serious and widely publicized social and environmental challenges, the fashion and textile industry is uniquely positioned to launch a sectoral initiative under the umbrella of the UN Global Compact.”
George Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact
If you can’t get to Copenhagen but want to keep up with the event then I know that @katetfletcher and the @NICEconsumer have already been tweeting live from the summit!
The Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) has recently produced a short film which presents a clear summary of what they do, how they do it, and the reasons why. The organisation works towards fair labour conditions for garment workers. To define this they identify eight labour standards based upon the UN human rights principles. These objectives include maintaining a living wage, an end to child labour and the right for workers to form or join a union. The FWF supports brands in achieving these aims in an open manner and provides consumers with the information they need to shop ethically.
The position of the FWF is one of rational and constructive action, working in collaboration with many stakeholders to implement and monitor clear strategies for improvement. Brands who sign up may find they have work to do, but by signing up they are showing a genuine commitment to change. This is in contrast to the reactionary cut and run approach that is sometimes taken in response to exposure for labour rights abuses which can be more damaging to the workforce and does not help to address the long term issues.
When doing some customer research last year, I found that a lack of transparency in garment supply chains hampers efforts for change. I was told by many people that they didn’t have the information they needed to make ethical purchases. There was also a lot of confusion about what to believe, for example, when a brand’s ethical policy did not seem to reflect the reports in the news. The FWF provides consumers with a verification of labour conditions, however in the UK, there are still only a handful of brands signed up. This leads to another opinion repeatedly expressed to me: the lack of choice for ethical shoppers. If we as consumers want transparency and choice in the purchases we make, then maybe we should be the ones asking brands demonstrate their commitment to ethically produced fashion. One way may be to sign up for the FWF code.
“It is our hope that, through our short video, we will reach out, inform and encourage people to act in the interests of the children of Uzbekistan.” (Samuel Cooper, Anti-Slavery International)
Anti-Slavery International is calling on the European Parliament to remove preferential trade tariffs with Uzbekistan. Click here for more information and to sign the petition.
Over 60 international retailers have joined forces to boycott Uzbek cotton, publicly stating their commitment to the eradication of forced child labour through the Responsible Sourcing Network, an As You Sow initiative.
Click below to learn more about what’s happening inUzbekistanand to follow our ongoing coverage:
Working in India and Bangladesh, the three year grant will be used by FWF and four partner organizations (SAVE and Cividep, in India, and the AMRF Society and Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh) “to implement innovative new strategies to reduce workplace violence against women in the garment industry.” (FWF)
“The benefits to women of a workplace without violence are clear and immediate, and an issue of respect for fundamental human rights.“ (Erica Van Doorn, Director of Fair Wear Foundation)
According to the Fair Wear Foundation, “[r]ecent research estimates that 60% of women in the garment industry have experienced some form of harassment, verbal abuse or physical abuse. Indiaand Bangladeshboth have legal frameworks to prevent and address workplace violence, however full implementation of these laws in the garment industry has been hampered by several factors, including the complexity of apparel supply chains.” (FWF)
With respect to a living wage on the high street, this is the 5th edition in a series of LCUF reports from LBL.
The findings have ranked Levi Strauss and Gap Inc. with a score of 1 out of 5 (along side H&M, and others), while Zara, Monson and NEXT were found with the highest scores at 3.5 out of 5.
According to LBL, initiatives taking living wage seriously must be grounded by four essential pillars:
Taking a collaborative approach
Worker organizing and freedom of association
Examining commercial factors paying the cost
Rolling it out: developing a route-map for sustaining a living wage
“The fact is that workers do speak out to demand better wages. At best they are often ignored; at worst they are persecuted, threatened, dismissed or harassed. Companies must do more to ensure respect for trade union rights in the quest to provide a living wage for garment workers.” (Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011: Pg. 1)
Readers who have followed LBL’s LCUF reports in the past will likely be surprised to see Gap Inc. with such a low score, considering the company received one of the highest grades in the 2009 report. According to LBL:
“Gap plans to work on developing good management and human resource systems with suppliers, which are needed. However, Gap supplied no evidence of plans to translate this work into real wage gains for workers. More worryingly, it states its intention to focus mainly on the achievement of compliance with minimum wages. This shift seems to suggest Gap has given up any plans to work towards providing living wages to workers in its supply chain altogether. We hope this isn’t the case.” (Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011: Pg. 28)
Some of you may be thinking that you’ve heard of this issue before…nothing new! That’s true, it is not a new concept. Actually, the idea of a living wage [or fair wage, I’m going to use the two terms interchangeably until someone can tell me their exact definitions and how they differ] has been around for a long time. Katrine discussed the Asia Floor Wage Campaign on this very website in 2009. But, long before the Asia Floor Wage Campaign started it’s activities, fair trade products were being sold with the goal of providing a fair wage to producers. So what’s the big deal? Why am I talking about this as though it’s a hot new trend?
Well, there’s been another interesting set of events this year that at first may seem unrelated.
The release of the UN’s long-awaited Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
The release of the OECD’s newly revised Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Recommendations for Responsible Business Conduct in a Global Context
The release of the FLA’s updated Workplace Code of Conduct
Reading all these statements and the background papers, the conference proceedings and so on that lead to the final product can be a bit tedious. Luckily, I have to do this for my dissertation anyway so, I’ll just summarize the relevant points and briefly explain the significance of these events.
The UN: Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework
When Professor John Ruggie was appointed the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on business and human rights back in 2005, he had a 2-year research based mandate “to ‘identify and clarify’ existing standards and practices.” In 2007, the UN Human Rights Council extended Ruggie’s mandate for 1 year with a request for recommendations based on his research. This mandate concluded with the publication of the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework in 2008 which was “welcomed” during the 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council. Once again, Ruggie’s mandate was extended for another 3 years during which the UN Human Rights Council requested that the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework be operationalized. The outcome of this long history is the publication of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Frameworkwhich were “recognized” by the 17th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
So what’s so important about these guidelines, and this history in general? They clarify the duties of businesses and states when it comes to human rights. What I think is especially important is the fact that the UN has basically placed corporate activity right in the middle of human rights discourse stipulating very clearly that not only does business have a responsibility to respect human rights, it also has a role in creating and supporting the mechanisms to remedy any rights violations associated with business activities. Essentially, the UN [which some have argued is the purveyor of global norms] has validated and legitimized the idea that business has a role in the governance of human rights. As a side note, one of the features of The Gap Inc., 2010 CSR report is the launch of their Human Rights policy [one of the first companies I know of with one of those] which directly references and uses similar terminology as the Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework.
But I still haven’t shared the best part. If you read this document carefully, you will notice section 12:
You would think that I would be really excited about the ILO reference in this, but that’s not interesting at all since the commentary section clarifies that what they mean by the ILO’s declaration is actually just the 8 core rights which almost any business serious about CSR already acscribes to anyway. No, the interesting part is this simple mathematical equation:
International Bill of Human Rights
United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
If you go deeper and look at the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights you will find a small statement, Article 7.a.ii, that is very relevant:
The OECD: Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Recommendations for Responsible Business Conduct in a Global Context
As you may have noticed, these declarations and reports and guidelines feed off each other. When Ruggie’s Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework was first released, the OECD took notice. In 2009, the idea was floated that maybe it was time to update their own guidelines for businesses which had not been reviewed since 2000! Kudos to them for noticing that a lot has changed since 2000. So it’s 2010, and after a whole lot of negotiations and discussions, the 48 member countries come up with a document called the Terms of Reference for an Update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises which basically set out the parameters for changes to the guidelines. On page 4 of this document is this line:
The OECD then had conferences and meetings, some with John Ruggie, to discuss the future form of their guidelines. Finally, this year, the updated guidelines were launched in May. In those 84 pages, Chapter V, section 4.b stipulates:
If you look at the 2010 set of guidelines, there is no mention of adequate pay to “satisfy the basic needs of the workers and their families” so this was definitely an addition to this year’s guidelines. But, the commentary section doesn’t mention it at all! I don’t think this was an oversight. Maybe this was a way to test this proposition and gauge reactions. In any case, once again, a reference to some sort of an improvement in wages to meet basic needs is out there in an official document. The idea is becoming more embedded in the global normative outlook even if it still hasn’t been defined or had its parameters clarified.
The FLA: Workplace Code of Conduct
In June this year, after a 2 year process of consultations with their stakeholders, the FLA revised their Workplace Code of Conduct. And they made it really easy to spot the differences between the 1997 code and the revised 2011 code with a side-by-side comparison. This picture shows an interesting change [1997 on the left, 2011 on the right]:
Again, “basic needs” is used to describe the same thing the OECD was talking about; some sort of improvement in wages so that workers can afford their basic needs plus a little extra. To go a little further, the FLA stipulates that if the minimum wage does not cover basic needs plus a little extra, FLA members have to work with the FLA to reach such a level of compensation!! And so here it is, a direct call on businesses to work to improve wage conditions so that workers can afford their basic needs and have a little extra leftover!
Even though many organizations have been working on promoting the idea of a living wage including the Asia Floor Wage Campaign and the Ethical Trading Initiative, this is the first time that we are seeing these ideas seep into policy related documents at the global level. And this conversation about living wages isn’t contextually relegated to ‘developing’ countries. Check out this article from This Magazine about the living wage debate in Canada. Things start to get really complicated when there are discussions about the nitty-gritty details. Whose responsibility is it to implement these types of policies? What will the wider impact on the rest of society be? How will these policies be implemented within supply chains? and the questions just keep coming. The video below is from the ETI Conference in 2008 where these questions were actually discussed (start at 1:34). At the end of the day, this is just the beginning of the mainstreaming of the conversation but it is still a start!