As the challenge is starting to feel more like a marathon than a sprint, it’s a good time now at the half-way mark to think about the cause behind this challenge. Motivation is needed, and taking a closer look at the work Labour Behind the Label does is a good way to get that motivation. This challenge isn’t only a way to challenge your own fashion or consumer habits, but it’s a way to raise awareness about the origins of our clothes and to raise funds for Labour Behind the Label. Donating to my fundraising page will only take two minutes of your time, and every small donation is a step closer to a fairer world!
Fashion is a beautiful thing: it’s great that you can express yourself and feel good with clothes, and shopping is fun. However, there is so much that goes into making clothes, so without conscious consumerism, you’re most likely supporting the extremely harmful practices of the modern fashion industry. I remember trying to go shopping a few years ago, without really knowing much about sustainable fashion or where to get it. I was feeling particularly disgusted by modern fashion industry’s production methods, and I was walking around a shopping mall, going through all the clothes stores. I looked at the labels on the clothes and in every single store all clothes had labels saying “Made in Bangladesh”, “Made in China”, “Made in Cambodia”, “Made in Sri Lanka”. I was desperately trying to find clothes made in countries where I could feel reassured that the workers weren’t exploited – and I couldn’t find them. Shopping ethically shouldn’t be so much of a struggle! Why do we as consumers have to do all the work, and why aren’t fashion retailers making sure their clothes are made in a way that doesn’t exploit workers? Supporting campaign groups like Labour Behind the Label takes us a step closer to living in a world where we can go to any store and buy clothes with a good conscience.
I remember as a teenager making jokes about clothes being made in sweatshops – so I knew where and how clothes were made, but that didn’t stop me from buying them. In a way I knew what went into making our clothes, but I didn’t really think about it, or really understand what it meant. I feel like many people have similar views at the moment; clothes are seen as a positive, innocent thing, though at some level people understand that how they are made is far from innocent. Clothes are made to make you feel good about yourself, so what harm can it do to buy them? We need to realise that the horrid conditions in garment factories and the appalling pay workers get in them are real, and there are thousands of people who live in these conditions every single day. In the words of the amazing Arman Alizad that were made into a bunch of great memes “Kelatkaa! Nää ihmiset elää näin joka päivä!” (“Think about it! These people live like this every day!” – you probably won’t get why this is funny if you’re not Finnish and haven’t seen the memes).
One person can only do so much – my personal shopping preferences have little impact on the fashion industry at large. Of course, if ethical and sustainable fashion becomes mainstream and a large number of people commit to changing their consumer habits, changes will be made in the fashion industry. In addition to individuals making a change, it is imperative that there are campaigns like Labour Behind the Label raising awareness and working hard to understand the underlying problems of the fashion industry.
Transparency is a huge issue in the fashion industry at the moment – if you read sustainability reports on the websites of big retailers, they all say a lot of things about conditions in the factories they use and trying to make sure their workers are treated well and paid accordingly. But if companies don’t know where their clothes are made, how can they make claims about how ethically their clothes are made? There’s a horrifying example from the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, which killed 1134 people; some of the companies whose labels were found in the rubble of the building had to spend weeks trying to determine whether they had contracts with these factories. 70% of the companies studied for the Fashion Revolution transparency index had a transparency rating of under 50%. Subcontracting is a huge issue in the industry – companies make contracts with a certain factory, but often due to demands for cheap and fast labour, these factories are driven into subcontracting the work to another factory, which can do the work faster and cheaper. Campaigns like Labour Behind the Label are doing important work to try to make companies work more transparently and to find out more about their own supply chains, so that consumers can be more confident about the origins of their clothes.
But I don’t need to tell you what Labour Behind the Label does, when they can do it themselves:
“We raise public awareness and promote collective action from consumers to push for change in the industry. We pressure companies to take responsibility for worker’s rights throughout the entirety of their supply chains. We work with trade unions worldwide to amplify garment worker’s demands. We lobby governments and policy makers to legislate and protect garment workers human rights. The focus of our work comes from garment workers themselves, and we provide a platform to amplify their voice and demands and to promote international solidarity.
Labour Behind the Label believes that no-one should live in poverty for the price of a cheap t-shirt. That a living wage is a basic human right, as is working without fear for your life. We are committed to making these ideals a reality in the garment industry.”
If you want to know more concretely where your money goes when you donate to Labour Behind the Label, here’s a list of how they use money for their cause:
- 10 copies of action update – £5
- An hour’s campaigning on behalf of garment workers – £18
- Leaflet printing for an action – £35
- 100 copies of action update – £50
- A day’s campaigning on behalf of garment workers – £125
- An action/demo/media stunt – £250
- Activist training for ten people – £250
- Flight from Asia for a trade union speaker £500
- Campaign/research video made in Asia – £1,000
- Speaker tour in UK for two campaigners from Asia – £3,000
- In-country research, compilation and publication of report – £7,500
So far the challenge has raised £2700, which can already do so much, but I would love it if we could do even more. If you’ve been at all inspired by this post, I urge you to donate to the cause!