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.
Canada’s QUEEN of fashion, Jeanne Beker, is guest curator for an upcoming exhibit at The Design Exchange on the intersection of politics and fashion!
The exhibit covers political fashion from 1960 to the present including a paper dress covered with Pierre Trudeau’s face during the Trudeaumania days, fur coats splattered by PETA, skinhead fashion, and a few pieces from Jeremy Scott’s Arab Spring collection.
Here is Jeanne Beker chatting with the KING of radio, Jian Ghomeshi (big fans!), on Q today and doing an AMAZING job discussing fashion theory, elucidating on the deeper meanings behind fashion, and even adding a few points on second-hand clothing, consumerism, fast fashion, cultural appropriation and thoughtlessness within the fashion industry:
“IS FASHION EVER REALLY GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD? I DON’T KNOW, BUT I THINK IT CAN MAKE US A LITTLE MORE AWARE OF WHO WE ARE AS INDIVIDUALS.” -Jeanne Beker
This exhibit is definitely on our #fashionbucketlist next time we’re in Toronto! Politics of Fashion | Fashion of Politics runs from September 18th – January 25th, 2015.
“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:
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!
You’ve likely followed the mass faintings of garment workers that have taken place in Cambodia this year. While most reports have cited gruelling working conditions and worker exposure to toxic chemicals as likely causes, reasons for the faintings remain unclear.
Add to this a recent report out of Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, “Tearing Apart at the Seams: How Widespread Use of Fixed-Duration Contracts Threatens Cambodian Workers and the Cambodian Garment Industry.”
The report highlights an amendment to relax restrictions on fixed-duration contracts would compromise the rights of garment workers under both Cambodian and international law. As a result, the authors advise the government not to amend the current labour law.
“The Cambodian government has been considering amending the labor law to ease restrictions on fixed-duration contracts. The country’s apparel industry is already facing heightened international scrutiny because of the mass firings of workers who participated in a strike last year over low wages. One of the main competitive advantages of the Cambodian garment industry is its reputation for progress on protecting workers’ rights, so it is important to understand the human rights consequences of using FDCs and the impact that permitting their expansion could have on Cambodia’s competitiveness.” (James Silk, director of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic)
While we wait to learn how all of this will continue to play out, we thought we’d leave you on a positive note, and (re)draw your attention to an important health and safety education initiative we posted on our Facebook page a couple of weeks ago: The ILO-BFC’s Garment Workers Open University 2011.
“Each Sunday, nearly 500 workers, from 20 garment factories, attended a full-day training to learn some basic knowledge about the Cambodian Labour Law, and obtain information about social protection services available to them.” (ILO-BFC)
Oxfam Australia has launched a new online campaign: Sneaky Business—a virtual march touring protesters across factories in Southeast Asia, China and Central America, all the way to the headquarters of leading shoe manufacturer, Nike. The march is a call for action for workers rights in the global footwear industry. As I write this post, there are 205 virtual protesters marching through Indonesia.
“The journey shows that poor working conditions are a global problem. Worker exploitation exists whether in Australia, South East Asia or Central America. However Sneaky Business also demonstrates that there are companies doing the right thing— ensuring that footwear workers are treated with dignity and have access to their rights.” (Oxfam Australia)
When the march finishes up in the next few months, Oxfam will deliver the messages of each protester to the shoe manufacturers. Teachers, this sounds like a perfect project to get your class involved with come September.
To join the march, simply choose your message and upload a picture of your sneakers!
Of the many issues addressed in this report, the research outlines the true impact of short lead times, explaining how wages earned can depend on whether or not a worker meets production deadlines. It also showcases certain worker rights that have been denied as a result of an absent rule of law.
“The research conducted for this report reveals that women in the garment sector have been systematically denied their rights to maternity leave under Bangladeshi law.” (Stitched Up: pg 8 )
The report investigated 41 garment factories (there are an estimated 4,825 garment factories in Bangladesh) and interviewed nearly 1000 workers (there are an estimated 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh) (Stitched Up: pg 2). 86% of the mostly women interviewed (988/1000) were between the ages of 18-31 (Stitched Up: pg 2).
“the seeds for creating a vibrant, more sustainable fashion industry in Bangladesh have started to be sown”
(Steps Towards Sustainability: Snapshot Bangladesh: pg. 4)
This must read report presents case studies as a snapshot that “[e]ducators and students can explore them from design, business and apparel management perspectives.” (Steps Towards Sustainability: Snapshot Bangladesh: pg. 6)
Case Study 1
People Tree: Designing differently
Case Study 2
New Look and Echotex: Addressing long hours, low pay and buying practices
Case Study 3
Aranya Crafts: Pioneers in natural dyes
Citation: Parker, E. (2011) Steps towards Sustainability inFashion: Snapshot Bangladesh, edited by Hammond, L., Higginson, H. and Williams,D., London College of Fashion and Fashioning an Ethical Industry.