Category Archives: Curricula

[Lesson 3] Global Governance and the Corporation


Globalization has created a new world order; one where traditional notions of state-led governance have been replaced with corporate mandates. There is a grave need for international corporate governance.

In an attempt to curb the corporations’ seemingly unyielding power, the United Nations created the Global Compact (UNGP). The UNGP promotes international corporate governance, but is it working? Is it enough?

This lesson will introduce the corporation, and global governance within the context of human rights violations, with respect to notions of democracy, sovereignty, security, and ethics.


– To educate learners on the issues surrounding global governance and the corporation
– To contextualize the realities for garment workers, as a result of pressures from the bottom-line
– To facilitate an understanding of the limitations of the Global Compact.

Click here to download this lesson: Lesson 3: Global Governance and the Corporation

[Lesson 2] Connect // Key Players


Identifying the social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts of the fashion, textile and apparel industries requires interdisciplinary research.  There are countless touch points along these supply chains, as well as within each lifecycle stage of the products they produce. While the impacts of these industries may be positive and/or negative, it is important to recognize their complicated nature. Internationally, key players are working tirelessly to facilitate interdisciplinary research and learning for change.  This lesson hopes to introduce you to these players. Reach out to them and connect.

The learning materials, activities and assignments for this lesson are positioned within the context of a single basic cotton T-shirt.


  • To direct learners to key players working to promote human rights and environmental protection within fashion, textile and apparel industries.
  • To encourage learners to reach out to key players within the responsible fashion community.
  • To connect the various touch points along the supply chain of fashion, textile and apparel industries.
  • To empower learners to become more educated on the impacts of fashion products and systems.

Freemind // Experiments in Interaction

We have embedded Freemind (below), an interactive online learning tool, into this lesson, so that you may explore various key players throughout the industry working to facilitate responsible fashion systems.  Explore the map, a work in progress, to discover organizations that may interest you, based on the category of specialization for which we have them listed. Click on the red arrows to be taken directly to their websites.

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Click here to download this lesson: Lesson 2: Key Players

Cambodian Court Cracksdown on Garment Worker Protest

This guest post was written by Dr. Robert Hanlon, a post-doctorial Research Associate at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia.  He is a former editor at the Asian Human Rights Commission and focuses on corporate social responsibility, corruption and human rights in Asia.   

Rueters Image via The Daily Mail, Batons out: Nine garment workers were injured with riot police in Phnom Penh on July 27th as officials tried to end a week-long strike over the suspension of a local union official

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of garment workers flooded the streets of Phnom Penh demanding the government review a $US 5/month wage increase that was approved earlier this summer.  Workers are demanding a further increase to the national minimum wage from US$ 61/month to US$ 93/month.   The government and manufactures have rejected the demands saying it would reflect negatively on Cambodia’s competitiveness.  With many employees refusing to return to work, a Cambodian court has branded the industrial action illegal and has given the green light for manufactures to fire anyone who continues to strike.  

[…] while the minimum wage law is only legally applicable to a small proportion of the entire workforce, it has far reaching implication throughout Cambodian society

While minimum wage is a critical step for any government in guaranteeing the well-being of society, the Cambodian law only extends to the garment industry.  This accounts to roughly 350,000 workers in the apparel and footwear sectors combined (less than 8 percent of the country’s working-age individuals).  While Cambodia positions itself as a competitive garment manufacturer, nearly 70 percent of the country’s total workforce still reside in the rural areas and are not privy to the minimum wage law.  Nonetheless, this group is highly dependent on remittance sent home by family members who have migrated to the city looking for work in the garment sector.  In this sense, while the minimum wage law is only legally applicable to a small proportion of the entire workforce, it has far reaching implication throughout Cambodian society.  

Interestingly, most garment manufacturers (especially those associated with International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program) agree that a minimum wage is critical in sustaining a certain quality of life while rightly arguing that workers already earn well-above the current minimum.  In fact, the Cambodian Institute of Development Study (CIDS) has found that the average take-home income is $US 86.88/month.  While workers may earn this wage, the amount is dependent on significant overtime. 

What makes Cambodia exceptional is that the garment manufacturers are right in highlighting the actual take-home is higher than the minimum; however, conveniently disregard the often mandatory overtime requirements placed on workers.  Moreover, the ILO estimates that nearly 30 percent of inspected factories do not adhere to the minimum wage requirements while only 8 percent follow the legal requirements governing overtime.  When these challenges are factored in, the CIDS estimates garment workers in Cambodia must earn at least $71.99 to sustain their very basic well-being and that of their dependents.  

Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world and is still recovering from one of the world’s worst atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge. “

With some manufacturers disregarding the law and the government consistently backing industry, it should come as no surprise why Cambodian garment workers are frustrated.  The government’s hard-line approach has not only protected local industrialists at the expense of workers, it has also given tacit approval for the courts and police to intimidate and assault those who challenge the system. 

Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world and is still recovering from one of the world’s worst atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge.  Nonetheless, it is slowly developing with one of the region’s highest annual growth rates.  With the government competing for market-share with countries like China and Bangladesh where costs are low and quality is high, it remains unlikely that plight of Cambodia’s garment workers will be heard anytime soon. 

Nonetheless, in a country where 30 percent of the population is still living on less than 50 US cents a day, we may take some solace in witnessing the determination of the Cambodian people to organize and reject the abject poverty inflecting so many of its communities.

Time to Connect the Dots!

Bangladesh has been rocked by protests that resulted in injured and killed workers and security personnel, labour leaders have gone into hiding fearing the worst, some arrests have taken place — all of this over unsatisfactory wage hikes to 3,000 Taka/month (~US$43) but, don’t worry Canadian consumers, your clothing costs will not increase!

CBC News Headline

I have to say, I was a bit surprised by this headline, although, to be fair, it is in the “Money” section.  The article has a cursory overview of what happened in Bangladesh (click here for a detailed summary of the events in Bangladesh) but something else stood out while reading it.  On the wage hikes, an H&M representative pointed out that the increase in cost is “competition-neutral” affecting all brands equally.


What the H&M rep said would be accurate if we lived in a perfect world.  But, when we talk of Bangladesh which has a low capacity to regulate and enforce the law, what ends up happening is that the minimum wage is almost like a suggested wage.  Check out this inset from Stitching a Decent Wage Across Borders: The Asia Floor Wage Proposal 2009

Stitching a Decent Wage Across Borders: The Asia Floor Wage Proposal 2009, p. 25

Interesting.  So, factories have the discretion to set production targets which helps control wages.  This makes wages variable relative to production quotas which factories can play around with to manage their costs.  We may be talking about a minimum wage increase but if production quotas change (i.e. increase) to match this wage hike then I doubt that any cost increases will be “competition neutral”.  I predict that what may happen is that factories will play around with production targets to remain competitive compared to other factories.  Why? Because factories work in a world driven by a “survival of the cheapest” philosophy.  So while the CSR department may put pressure on the government and supplier factories to improve conditions and wages causing increases in unit prices, the buying department may start to look elsewhere for cheaper products which, more likely than not, means another factory with low wages and sub-par working conditions.  Buying practices are a huge reason why producers are so worried about this wage increase.

Time to connect the dots:

This whole system is connected from the farm all the way into the closet and beyond that into the dump.  Retailers, brands and other clients cannot be outraged at the low wages in Bangladesh and put huge pressure on factories to improve their conditions without acknowledging that at least some of the responsibility lies with their purchasing practices.  Same with us consumers, we can’t be happy to pay an incredibly low price for clothing and then act completely shocked and outraged when we find out what it takes for that to happen.  Who are we kidding?   It’s like that scene from Casablanca:

Bangladesh// The Details

Two weeks ago, SA founder, Mary Hanlon alerted us to a little reported story on massive worker strikes in Bangladesh.  Following that, we decided to create Social Alterations // Visual Lab and introduced The Bangladesh Project.  We noticed a lack of context in the reports circulating, so we decided to just go ahead and give our readers the details behind the story.  Although the protests were most dramatic during the past month, this story has been unfolding for a long time.

A Bangladeshi police slaps the face of a suspected protester during a clash with garment workers at Mirpur, Dhaka. Photo: Abir Abdullah/EPA via The Guardian

Let’s go back one year to July 2009.  The world economic downturn was in full swing.  In Ashulia, a major manufacturing center just outside of Dhaka, clashes were raging as “tens of thousands” of garment workers were protesting sudden wage cuts and unpaid salaries.  The protests began in late June and continued into July as they escalated in intensity with 2 workers dead, many injured, one case of factory arson and numerous incidents of vandalism.  The industry website Yarns and Fibers Exchange reported that:

“Since early 2008, salaries have been cut by an average of up to 30 percent, according to union leader Tauhidul Islam who said this week’s violence had been fuelled by desperation. “The workers hit the streets because their backs are up against the wall,” Islam said.

The government’s Factory Inspection Department said this week that 122 of 825 factories surveyed – or 14.7 percent – between January and May did not pay staff on time with eight not even paying the minimum wage.”

Spectators and workers watch as cloud of smoke billows out of the burning Ha-Meem Group complex at Narasinghapur in Ashulia. PHOTO: Shafiqul Alam / The Daily Star

The government’s response to these protests was a crackdown for fear of a loss of business.  In 2008, Bangladesh was one of the largest garment exporters in the world, second only to China.  This event, among others, provided even more pressure on the government to accept a proposal for the formations of an industrial police which had been on the table for a while.

According to official records released in August 2009,  Bangladeshi garment exports had reached an all time high in the previous fiscal year as the country became more competitive due to the economic crunch.  While the industry became competitive within the global market, manufacturers still had to compete within the national market.  As a result, manufacturers engaged in what has been described as a price war in an attempt to attract orders.  Because of this price war, industry insiders claim that they had to cut prices by 20% which decreased their profit margins.  But since many of the manufacturing companies are privately owned, fiscal data is not public and therefore these claims cannot be verified.

In the same month, the Minister of Industry alluded to a conspiracy by accusing “vested interests” of “trying to de-stabilise the ready-made garments sector” saying that “the government would not tolerate any attempts by these trouble makers to ruin the image of the garment manufacturing sector.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated that an “industrial police could be an effective way to keep the export-oriented garment industry calm.” The government positions are understandable considering that the ready made garments industry accounts for around 80% of total exports, 40% of industrial jobs, and is a substantial source of foreign exchange reserves which are a valuable tool for maintaining currency stability (among other things).  Incidentally, the Finance Ministry rejected proposals for an industrial police due to the costs.

During the month of Ramadan (August 22-September 20), workers became restless once more as they demanded back pay, unpaid allowances and their Eid bonuses.  Reports on this are confusing and I don’t know which side is telling the truth.  The New Nation published two articles that reported the following:

via Fashioning an Ethical Industry

“BGMEA [Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association] president Abdus Salam Murshedy yesterday told The New Nation that it would become very tough to handle the possible labour unrest … “Workers are demanding double bonus ahead of Eid-ul-Azha. They are raising some demands, which are not mentioned in the labour laws,” he said.”

“Under the labour law, there is no provision of paying festival allowances for garments workers”.

In those same articles the following was also reported:

“Labour leaders said workers are agitating for realisation of their just demands. They said workers are demanding full trade union rights and implementation of tripartite agreement of 2006.”

“The workers and employees are demanding two months’ salaries and full festival allowance, while traditionally any worker or employee is entitled to get festival allowance for his or her job for minimum one year.”

Either way, the industry demanded 30 billion Taka (~US$430,725,047) of government aid for the payment of wages and Eid bonuses by September 7th, 2009, complaining that the industry is struggling because the economic crisis caused a decrease in the number of orders.  This demand was rejected by the Finance Minister and later withdrawn by the BGMEA as an ‘error’. reported that the union deadline for payment (September 16th) was ignored as some factories shut down for the Eid holiday without paying wages and bonuses.  It is unclear whether this was a widespread problem or not.

During this time, leaders of Samannito Garments Sramik Federation “demanded [the] formation of a wage board and payment of Tk 5,000 as minimum wage”. Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Faruq Khan announced that “a tripartite committee representing government, garment owners and workers has been working to fix the minimum wages for the garment workers.”

A man attempts to throw a burning mattress while others pelt policemen with stones and brickbats during a clash between agitating garment workers and law enforcers in Tongi yesterday. Photo: Amran Hossain / The Daily Star

On October 31st, workers at Nippon Garments factory came to work in the morning to find a notice informing them that the factory had closed for one month because of the economic downturn.  This event sparked violent clashes during which police fired rubber bullets in response to  stones and bricks being thrown by protesting workers.  A committee formed November 1st to investigate the events announced its findings in December asserting that “both the garment factory owner and the law enforcement agencies [are] at fault for the widespread violence that left three people dead.”

In January 2010, Touhidur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Poshak Shilpa Shramik Federation, told the The New Nation that a written demand for the formation of a wages commission was submitted on December 12th.  Salahuddin Swapan, President of Bangladesh Biplobi Garment Shramik Federation, claimed that the government had repeatedly assured them that a wages commission would be formed immediately to review the minimum wages of RMG workers.  He added that:

“We will wage movement by the first week of February. At first we will do conventions in different garment zones and later will hold a national convention to press home our demands…[n]ow we are sure that the government will not respond positively unless we go for tough movements.”

According to Bangladeshi labour law, wages are to be reassessed and adjusted every 3 years.  The last time that had happened was October 2006 meaning that the government was long over due.  January also saw further isolated clashes with 2 dead and numerous injuries.  The first wage commission meeting was held on January 24th but the BGMEA representative was absent leaving factory owners open to criticism that they were stalling the process.  BGMEA president Abdus Salam Murshedy informed The New Nation that considering economic conditions, it was “impossible” for factories to pay higher wages and suggested that the government step in and provide workers with subsidies on necessities.

Worker unrest and the conditions related to it is a source of worry to global retailers and in February it was reported that they had “written a letter to the Bangladesh Prime Minister requesting her to take ‘swift’ measures to increase the minimum wage of nearly two million readymade garment (RMG) workers.” However, the same report pointed out that

Garment workers shout slogans as they block a street in Dhaka. Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters via The Guardian

retailers were paying lower prices than before for Bangladeshi products.  The retailer perspective was also in the news in March as France 24 reported that Bangladesh is “too cheap for comfort for some brands” explaining that the letter sent in January included Walmart, H&M, Carrefour and Levi Strauss.

“Current minimum wages “do not meet the basic needs of the workers and their families,” the letter said, adding that the government should set up a review board to reassess the minimum wage.

“The increased cost of living during 2008 and 2009 has contributed to the unrest among workers in the garment sector as wages have not been regularly revised,” the letter added.”

The report also included statements made by an unnamed source:

“”It’s absolutely unacceptable that minimum wages are just 25 dollars,” the Dhaka-based head of a top Western store, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.

“We pay enough to factory owners, but we don’t think that the benefits trickle down to workers or are being spent on improving conditions,” he added.”

Other brands like Zara, JC Penny, Uniqlo, Tesco and Marks & Spencer have decided to forgo the middlemen and created their own liaison offices in Dhaka to “keep an eye on the conditions in which their branded goods are produced.” On the other hand, factory owners claim that the ‘concern’ of the retailers is a stunt pointing out that retailers have slashed order prices in response to low global demand.  Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, a factory owner and “vice president of the country’s leading exporters group” was quoted in the report complaining that:

“It’s not fair that they want us to hike workers’ salaries while the buyers continue to cut order prices”

Police say thousands of workers clashed with security forces at Ashulia via BBC

In another article in The Daily Star, BGMEA president Murshedy pointed out that the letter sent by retailers failed to mention unit prices and a need for an increase in order prices.  According to him, operation costs have increased by 25% over the past year but his order prices remain the same.

Isolated clashes continued throughout this time and in early April at a meeting organised by Garment Shramik Sangram Parishad (a platform of garment workers) in Dhaka, 7 worker demands were reiterated:

  • Minimum wage at 5,000 Taka
  • Changes to labour regulations
  • Amend the Bangledeshi Labour Act of 2006 to match ILO convention
  • Punish non-complaint factory owners
  • Shut down unsafe factories
  • 1 million Taka (~US$14,358) compensation to the families of workers who die due to safety violations
  • Ensure the flow of gas and electricity to factories

President of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), Fazlul Hoque, agreed that there was a need for a wage hike but again pointed to other factors that need to be considered like productivity and inflation.  He also “called upon the workers to leave the labour leaders who exploit them, provoke rampage in the factories and destroy properties.”

Meanwhile, the government activated their security apparatus which created 8 “crisis management cells” situated in the main garment manufacturing districts.  The intelligence agency had a government mandate to investigate and “identify the culprits who were involved in making garment sector unstable through creating artificial chaos”.  Continuing with the conspiracy theme, The New Nation reported that following a meeting at the Ministry of Labour and Employment sources informed them that:

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Photo via The Daily Star

“the Government believes that a vested quarter is active in the field to deteriorate the law and order situation in the country through raising differences among the owners and workers of the RMG industry.

They are trying to destroy the highest foreign exchange earning sector through creating chaos. To this effect they start to ransack in the garment factories on simple issues…

There are allegations against some labour leaders that they were destroying the RMG sector through creating chaos in a planned way. To stop their unruly activities the Government has ordered the detective agencies to investigate the legal status of their organisations.”

At the same meeting, a BGMEA representative was present and stated that the industry was being held hostage by “10 to 12 so called labour leaders.” It is unclear whether any of the “so called labour leaders” were present at this meeting.  However, they were present at the second wage board meeting that took place in April during which the board requested that detailed reports from both sides of the issue.  A statement made by the Minister of Labour and Manpower, Mosharraf Hossain, to the AFP promised a wage hike within 3 months.  This promise came as large-scale clashes rocked the country and labour unrest was no longer an isolated incident.

Speaking on May Day, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused a “third party” of instigating unrest: “I’ve already come to know about the evil force, the persons involved in conspiracy to create unrest in the garment sector”.  The Minister of Labour called for the creation of labour unions saying that “[o]therwise the problems of the garment factories won’t be solved”.  Later in the same month, factory owners released their minimum wage proposal of 1,800 (~US$26) to 2,200 (~US$32) Taka/ month.  And as World Cup fever spread across the world, France 24 quoted one factory owner: “My garment factory has bled cash over the last few months as we lacked export orders due to the global meltdown…[b]ut over the last two weeks, I have used 50 workers to sew World Cup flags and made a great profit. Next month, I’ll be able to pay workers on time”.

In June, large-scale protests continued and the world finally began to take notice.

The numbers were small at first and increased quickly from 8,000 workers in Jamgarh district of Ashulia to 50,000 workers in Ashulia industrial area.  Clashes with government security forces were fierce as reports of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons were disseminated.  Many factories shut down for a short time fearing vandalism and violence.  The local police chief stated that protesters blocked a key highway, ransacked factories, fired live rounds and threw rocks.  These events were accompanied by a threat of a nation-wide wage-hike campaign.  The BGMEA responded with an appeal to workers:

“We have been reeling under acute gas and power crisis, which has affected our productivity…[a]nd now comes the call for shutdown from the unions. They should be logical. We have yet to bounce back from global meltdown and it is not the right time to seek such a huge wage hike”.

Factory owners suspended production indefinitely which alarmed many workers who took to the streets to protest the action.  After meeting with government representatives, production facilities opened again with assurances of safety and protection from violence and vandalism.  Again, clashes erupted 3 days after opposition parties called for a nation-wide general strike prompting the arrest of 131 opposition activists.  It is unclear how the garment worker protests are related to the general strike protests.  Still, at the end of June and into early July, scores of garment workers came out to protest prompting the dispatch of riot police.  Photos were released showing children, women and men being beaten by the police using batons and bamboo.  On July 2nd, garment workers began a month-long peaceful agitation program waiting until the results of the wage board negotiations on July 27th.

In mid-July, the New York Times published an article entitled Bangladesh, With Low Pay, Moves in on China, in it, Li & Fung, one of the largest sourcing companies in the world, explained that they had increased their production in Bangladesh by 20% in the past year while decreasing production in China by 5%.  The article also discussed the wage issue with factory owners arguing that a big increase of wages will make them less competitive not just against China but also against other cheap labour countries like Vietnam and Cambodia because those countries have better infrastructure and productivity levels.  The article ends with a foreshadowing statement by factory owner and former head of an unspecified Bangladeshi garment industry trade group, Anisul Huq:

“If it’s 5,000 taka, I would close all my factories…[e]ven if it’s 3,000 taka, lots of factories will close within three or four months.”

Garment worker Kulsi Begum, 20, shares this room with two other workers. They pay 1,500 taka rent a month, which is a large part of their 1,662 taka monthly salary. August 2009, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Taslima Akhter / Clean Clothes Campaign

The wage board announced two days ago that the new minimum wage would be set at 3,000 Taka (~US$43).  This amount includes a 200 Taka allowance for medical expenses and an 800 Taka allowance for housing leaving workers with 2,000 Taka (US$29) for other expenses.  The Daily Star reported that the factory owners’ representative would sign the deal today (July 29th) after adding some conditions including security for factory owners, release of an industrial stimulus package, a four-month time frame for implementation, zero tax at source, reduction of ship turnaround time at Chittagong port, and suspending a minimum charge on the use of gas and electricity.  Meanwhile, reports are mixed on the reaction of labour groups to the new minimum wage.  In the same Daily Star article as above, it was reported that:

“Towhidur Rahman, a coordinator of the Garment Sramik Oikya Parishad, said, “Tk 3,000 is not enough. I urge the government to reconsider the proposed pay structure.”

…Labour leaders and garment workers yesterday protested the proposed pay.

“We reject the proposed wage structure. We will stage demonstrations against the proposed pay in early August,” said Mushrefa Mishu, president of Garment Sramik Oikya Forum, at a rally in the capital’s Muktangon area.”

In an article published by the Jakarta Globe yesterday, unions claim that workers will accept this wage hike adding that “[n]early a dozen left-leaning unions, none of whom had representatives on the wage board, organized a protest in Dhaka on Wednesday, but the demonstration’s turnout was low.” The new minimum wage of 3,000 Taka will be formally announced today at 5pm by Labour and Employment Minister Hossain.  As for other demands, we just have to wait and see.

SA Visual Lab// The Bangladesh Project

A Bangladeshi policeman hits a child with a baton during clashes with a garment workers in Dhaka. Image via The Guardian, Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images.


Last week, Mary wrote about the large scale garment worker protests in Bangladesh. If you don’t know about this issue, I urge you to read more on Mary’s post as well as other sources such as The Guardian, Reuters, and The Daily Star. To view a powerful photo gallery click here. 

In February 2010, the Bangladesh Garments Workers Unity Council, a federation of Bangladeshi garment worker organizations, submitted a list of 5 demands to the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).  These demands are: 

  1. increase the minimum wage to 5,000 Taka
  2. removing labour (Amendment) act-2009
  3. cease plans to form an ‘Industrial Police’
  4. fixing production rates prior to production
  5. ensure the freedom of association and to form unions as per ILO conventions

At the moment, workers are near the end of a “month-long peaceful agitation programme to press home their five-point demand”.  SA will continue the coverage on this situation including in-depth posts on the worker demands. 

SA founder Mary Hanlon shares her message.


Social Alterations has put together a visual message to the workers and others involved.  Bangladeshi garment workers need our support to increase their hourly wage. By uploading your photo and message, you are not only allowing these workers to see your face, but you are also empowering them with the simple statement that you can see them, and that they are not alone. 

 The United Nations defines extreme poverty as individuals living on less than a dollar a day…current minimum wages in Bangladesh sit at 11.5 cents/hour (that’s 25$ per month and less than a dollar a day). 

Upload your photo to flickr and tag the image “SABangladeshProject”: once you have done this, your photo will be added to the pool of public images under this same tag: Please be sure to tag the image #SABangladeshProject, or we won’t be able to find you! If flickr is not for you, you can upload to the SA facebook fan page, or thorugh twitter (@SA_FashionLab). You can also email us your photo and we will upload it for you.  

Don’t forget to tell us where you are sending your photo from! 

Not sure what to write on your sign? Here are a few suggestions to get you started: 

“Bangladesh needs a living wage now!”
“I support Bangladeshi garment workers!”
“ < 1.00 $/day = extreme poverty”
“In Solidarity”
“Less than 1$ a day is extreme poverty: Bangladeshi garment workers deserve better”

Less than a $ a day = not good enough!

A fan from Kaohsiung, Taiwan with their message.


VIDEO//Parsons School of Fashion sits down with Mary Hanlon to talk Social Alterations and Responsible Design

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with Tamara Albu, Director of the A.A.S. Fashion Design Program at Parsons School of Fashion in New York to discuss Social Alterations, and the work we’ve been doing in developing free, open-source curricula for students and educators.
Tamara asked me to sit down with her more formally and explain the project so that students and faculty at Parsons might get to know who we are and the work that we are doing.
Speaking with Tamara in this virtual space was a complete honour, and I am so happy to share this edited video with you here, along with the interview transcript. 

Parsons School of Fashion talks Responsible Fashion with Mary Hanlon from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

Interview Transcript

Tamara Albu (TA): Hello. My name is Tamara Albu, I direct the Fashion Design A.A.S. Program, at Parsons School of Fashion here in New York. We are here today, in a virtual space, creating a bridge between New York and Vancouver, so we can talk a bit about the Social Alterations online lab developed by Mary Hanlon, after completing her Graduate thesis.   

Mary Hanlon is the Founder, Editor and Lead Contributor of Social Alterations, and the winner of this year’s Fashioning the Future Award for “Systems for a Sustainable Fashion Industry” through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion.

Before beginning our conversation, I would like to thank David Goldsmith, one of our senior faculty, for introducing me to Mary.

It was fortunate that Mary Hanlon and David Goldsmith met recently at the Fashioning an Ethical Industry conference, in London. At the end of the event he talked about his strong belief that Mary’s website team and his research are a wonderful example of building the infrastructure for a “Fully-Fair” clothing and fashion industry.  As he explained, Fully-Fair means being fair–not only in the limited sense of fair-trade,–but fair environmentally, economically, culturally, and socially.

Soon after this, I visited your website to learn more about your online lab, Mary. I was so taken by this project that I started thinking how can I make your ideas known to our students and faculty, here at Parsons, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

What came to my mind, was we already had a lot of conversations online via Skype, so

I simply wanted to record our Skype discussions as quickly as possible and have them published on the Parsons’ School of Fashion blogazine.   

So, Mary, before we begin our main discussion—I would like you to perhaps say a few words about yourself. 

Mary Hanlon (MH): Hi Tamara! Thank you for speaking with me. It’s wonderful to talk with you here. Yes, I’d like to thank David Goldsmith for introducing us, first and foremost. I met David in early March, back at the Fashioning an Ethical Industry Conference in London. We got to talking there, and, you know, we were speaking the same language. So, I just want to thank him for putting us in contact, and also thank you, both of you, for taking an interest in Social Alterations.

It’s not enough to create great fashion, you have to understand why, what’s going to happen to that fashion later on, and what are the implications of what you’ve done (Simon Collins, Dean of Parsons School of Fashion)

TA: I’m certainly very interested in Social Alterations, and that’s why we are here today. So, let me begin by asking you my first question:  What exactly is Social Alterations?

MH: Social Alterations (SA) is an online lab built to educate fashion design instructors and students on the social, cultural, environmental and economic impact of their design choices.

It is an interactive website that, you know, hopes to create a space that will begin the conversation to bridge the gap between responsible design in theory and then responsible design in practice. So it’s a learning space, essentially, that wants to facilitate transformative design education.

I founded Social Alterations because my graduate research investigated the role of fashion design educators in teaching responsible fashion design. And, what I learned from that…you know, my research really showed that there was a knowledge gap within the industry, and I realized that there was an opportunity there to take the research I had done and put it outside of just the walls of my academia.

My passion for open-source learning guided me toward wanting to create an educational system that would be accessible to as many people as possible.

The Social Alterations Team is made up of myself, Nadira Lamrad, who is both a collaborator on this project as well as a contributing writer, and Katrine Karlsen, who is a contributor. It’s an international initiative. You know, while Nadira is based in Hong Kong, Katrine is writing from Norway, and I’m currently based in Vancouver, Canada.

TA: My goodness, this is a wonderful thing, they certainly are from all over the world; very interesting and exciting. Mary, let me ask you one other question, what do you mean by ‘transformative design education’ if you could develop a little bit more about that?

MH: Sure. I mean, we believe that interdisciplinary education is key to tackling these issues, because these are interdisciplinary issues. So our theme ‘Accessibility for Accountability,’ really shows that we want to help learners understand these issues by breaking down educational barriers: we want to provide them with the necessary tools to take on the challenge of responsible design, give them proper resources, create platforms for discussion, and build open-source curricula, within the interdisciplinary context. So when we talk about “responsible design,” we are talking about design that is educated on all of these issues.

TA: So, that leads me to a subject that is very close to me, but I’d like you to talk about it in relation to your project. Could you elaborate on what you mean by ‘open-source’ learning?

Mary: Sure. So, open-source learning for us is really about breaking down educational barriers. There is so much amazing research being done, that if we can harness this knowledge and aggregate the resources to deliver this through open-source systems. I mean, It’s exciting for us to imagine educators from across the globe coming together to discuss these issues. For example the open-source nature of Social Alterations allows educators and thought leaders from various disciplines (not just fashion design) to share their research in best practices for responsible design, but they can do so  in real-time, online. You know, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in Hong Kong, or if you’re in Toronto, if you’re in Vancouver, or if you’re in South America, it’s not the point. Location isn’t the matter, it’s a matter of getting access to the information that you need as quickly as possible, because the consequences of not having that information are very large.  

TA: You’re absolutely right, Mary. Can you tell us, what do you mean by ‘responsible design’?

MH: When we talk about “responsible design” on Social Alterations, we are talking about design that has considered, again, so environment, culture, society and economy to the absolute best of its abilities, at each stage of the design process.

Research has shown that so much of the consequences of design (you know, positive or negative) is actually known at the design stage. So while consumer education plays a huge role, of course, in shaping socially responsible fashion design, signals of deception, greenwashing for example, and unintelligent design, hidden ingredients….consumers basically are left to um, in many cases (of course not all cases), but in many cases, are left with no real choice—to pick from the best of the worst

But we believe the designer always has a choice at that design stage.

Material selection, for example is an obvious starting point. We have a “Fibre Analysis” that outlines the potential social and environmental consequences of commonly used fibres (that’s available online). And it’s this resource that we developed by aggregating resources that already exist, by pulling them together in one package so people have the answers they need right away.

Of course, the list of fibres in the analysis is no where near exhaustive, and so we’ll be working on further developing the content as we move forward. It’s an ongoing process.

TA: I’m so glad you mentioned all these, and I certainly hope that your project is going to continue and flourish and become, not only a source of inspiration but actually a source of information for so many designers interested in responsible design. Let’s go a little bit farther, and talk a little bit about the fact that you have argued that design educators have a responsibility to teach these issues. Could you explain?

MH: At the end of the day, the responsibility falls on the shoulder of the designer, primarily, because the designer is the creator of that product—of that garment

But if we go back and we think about the fashion design educator as having a responsibility—if we think of fashion design education as the point of intervention then the responsibility is lifted slightly off the shoulders of the designer and placed on the shoulders of the fashion/textile/apparel design educator.

So, to teach design practices that are culturally, socially, environmentally and economically supportive— that’s the responsibility of the design educator, is essentially what we’re arguing.

TA: Very well put. Okay, that leads me to my next question: what’s next?

Mary: Well, we’ll be looking to partner with various international stakeholders within the community (corporations, non-governmental organizations, environmental and Human Rights groups, social enterprises and educational institutions), and we’ll continue the process of developing the curricula, and pulling the resources together, and trying to deliver them in an edited capacity that makes sense—that people can use and absorb the knowledge that we’re presenting. I mean, it’s a really exciting time, because we have had such positive feedback coming from all sectors. There is a real opportunity for change here. I think that that’s pretty clear, so if we do the work, and we aggregate the resources, develop this content, and really pull it together for people so that they understand not just what’s at stake, but the choice that they can make moving forward to have control—take back control—is really powerful.

TA: Mary, I’d like to thank you very much for sharing this with all of us. I will certainly make sure that this information will be available online. Either our faculty and students will watch this video or they might prefer to read through the transcript, but the end result should be that we raise awareness for this project, and hopefully your website will  be visited more and more, and that of course will mean that your project will become even more successful than it is now.

MH: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about this project. I hope that your readers will find it interesting, and that they’ll come and support us. And I really look forward to continuing this conversation. Thank you again, very much for your time. Thank you. Thank you very much Tamara!

TA: Thank you so much for allowing me to enter your space and interview you, I just want to add that I have been talking today with Mary Hanlon who is the Founder, Editor and Lead Contributor of Social Alterations, and the winner of this year’s Fashioning the Future Award for “Systems for a Sustainable Fashion Industry” through the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion.  

I hope that you’re going to get a lot of followers—and I’m certainly already one of them! So, great talking to you!  

TEACH// Fun Workshops for Pre-16 Learners: [Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing


Fashion High @ Balmoral Jr. Secondary School from Social Alterations on Vimeo.

On Earth Day, SA stepped back into the classroom to introduce Grade 8 students to the social and environmental impacts of fashion.

We have collated our favorite activities from Teaching Sustainable Fashion: A Handbook for Educators as well as developed our own exercises to create two workshops for pre-16 learners.

These workshops hope to engage, educate, encourage and empower both educator and learner to get involved with the issues. Each workshop provides resources and tools to help lessen the impact of the fashion industry on both people and planet.

We’ve put together this video of the 1 Hour workshop in action, so that you may get a better picture on how this might work in your classroom.


This workshop was designed to introduce pre-16 students/participants the value of a responsible fashion industry, by understanding the impact our clothing has on both people and planet.


  • To engage students/participants on the impact their clothing has on garment workers working within the fashion industry.
  • To educate students/participants on the impact their clothing has on the planet, specifically in terms of best practices in laundry habits.
  • To encourage students/participants to ‘talk back’ to the industry, through a critical examination of fashion themes coming out of the industry, specifically surrounding beauty and wealth.
  • To empower learners to take back control of the impact their clothing on both people and planet.

For more information on these activities, please visit the ‘Works Cited’ page at the end of each workshop.

* If you are planning to use this lesson, please let us know so that we may keep track of our programming.*

** Please ask your students to complete the online feedback forms**

[Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing: An Introduction by Social Alterations is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.

Click on the links below to download the workshops:

[Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing: An Introduction, 1 Hour Workshop

Download here: Fashion High – 1HourWorkshop

[Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing: An Introduction, 2 Hour Workshop

Download here: Fashion High – 2HourWorkshop



“Step into her shoes” for some Human Rights training with Fashioning an Ethical Industry

Back in January, we posted on Clearing the Hurdles, a report by The Playfair campaign, which is made up of  the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker’s Federation (ITGLWF), in partnership with Maquila Solidarity Network, and other organizations worldwide.

This May, Fashioning an Ethical Industry invites teachers and tutors  to “Step into her Shoes” and be introduced to a “new pack of teaching resources aimed at KS4, A-level and FE themed around the London’s 2012 Olympics. The pack focuses on issues of human rights within global sportswear supply chains, including case studies, lesson plans, an online game and picture resources. The session will introduce the materials with suggestions for how to use them, and provide a background to the wider Playfair 2012 campaign calling for a fairer deal for garment workers producing sportswear and branded goods for the Olympics.” (FEI)

Title: Teacher and Tutor Training: Step into her Shoes
Location: London
Link out: Click here
Start Time: 16:00
Date: 2010-05-26
End Time: 18:00

Fashion High// Educating Youth on Responsible Fashion Consumption

In our activity “Talking Back” students were asked to ‘talk back’ to fashion magazines, by cutting out images and placing them on a poster board either under the category “OK!” or “NO THANKS.” Students at Balmoral said “NO THANKS!” to this fashion theme.

 I recently had the pleasure of stepping in as a guest speaker at Balmoral Jr. Secondary School, in North Vancouver (BC, Canada), to talk responsible fashion consumption with a fantastic group of Grade 10’s (thanks Ms. Thomson!).

Why? We got to talking recently at SA about how many of the resources we’re aggregating for fashion designers/students/educators are easily translated into resources for youth (pre-16). In fact, thanks to groups like Fashioning an Ethical Industry and TRAID (to name just a couple), so many resources on responsible fashion dedicated to students within this age bracket already exist.

Because we want to make sure teachers know where to go to access these great educational tools, we’ve pooled some of our favourites together to present to you what we think is an amazing workshop for Pre-16 students: [Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing: An Introduction.

We want to share the experience with you here and give you all the tools you need to run your own workshop. We’ll be uploading a package for the 1 hour workshop I ran at Balmoral, as well as an extended 2 hour version of the same workshop. Like all of our content, these lessons are completely interdisciplinary.

I’ll be stepping back into the classroom at Balmoral soon, so to make sure that this workshop goes as smoothly as possible on your end, I will record some video footage to give you a sneak peak at how it all works together when put into action.  

My experience at Balmoral, here in Canada, was a complete success; Not only was I inspired by these students, encouraged at how comfortable they were discussing Human Rights and the environment within the fashion context, I believe that the workshop had a real impact on the students, providing them with tangible solutions to some very big problems.

Stay tuned for more on this.

Here are some images of the workshop: