"To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity."
- Nelson Mandela
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being".  Human rights are, therefore, often thought of as being universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). Sadly, this is not always the case in the world of fashion.
Since the collapse of Rana Plaza factory in April of this year, the world's media has been full of heated debates about the fashion industry and its relationship with human rights. Fashion ComPassion got involved in the discussions early on when our founder and director, Ayesha Mustafa, spoke Sky News soon after the collapse about what needed to be done to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.
Most recently, Panorama's documentary - 'Dying For A Bargain' - revealed footage of the brutal working conditions in some of Bangladesh's busiest garment factories, with employees being forced to work 19-hour days and even being locked in the factory overnight.
When interviewed for the documentary, Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, said, "Behind these labels, there are human faces. And those humans should be treated as a human. Not like equipment. Not like a slave".
We complete agree with Kalpona. No one should ever be treated as if they are just worthless or expendable pieces of machinery. Drastic change needs to happen in the fashion industry.
For too long, high street chains have complain about how difficult it is for them to improve working conditions and human rights in their factories. They will often resort to the claim that they do want to make changes but cannot as there is no demand for it or that their customers don’t want it. From their perspective, the responsibility for the current 'fast fashion' culture lies solely with the consumer. It’s become their get out clause.
This kind of response is complete and utter nonsense. Furthermore, such a response is dangerous. It overlooks the fact that slavery, poverty and disaster happens at the higher end of the fashion too.
In an interview for the film Apparel Truth, a trade union leader in Bangladesh is very clear where the responsibility lies, saying that “...the main profit from this business is going to the multi-national company…The multinational company is putting pressure on the local business to pay a living wage. But also the multinational company is putting pressure on the local business to reduce their price.”
In other words, the global fashion brands DO have a role in creating change and protecting the rights of their workers. We need to start putting pressure on these brands to change their ways and to stop human right abuses which is happening in their factories.
That’s not to say consumers have no role to play in creating change in the fashion industry.
People power is incredibly important. Even one person can make a difference. That's why Fashion Mob have launched The 1% Campaign. This campaign, founded by Esther Freeman (editor of Ms Wanda's Wardrobe), calls on the fashion companies to invest a minimum of 1% of their profits to ensure the human rights of garment workers are properly protected. Fashion companies need to spend more time and investment in activities like better auditing, health and safety training and improved working with NGOs, in order to provide their workers a safe environment to work in.
As consumers, we are in an incredibly powerful position to demand this. And, if we all work together, we can help bring about a solution which will prevent tragedies like Rana Plaza from happening ever again.
Get involved and sign the 1% Campaign petition and demand that multinational companies take responsibility for what happens in their name.
* This post is part of the Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers initiative by Ms Wanda's Wardrobe. Part of this blog was adapted from an interview with Esther Freeman about The 1% Campaign. On 16th October, bloggers around the world will come together to talk about fashion and human rights, as part of Blog Action Day. Be part of the conversation and get involved!*
1. Sepúlveda, Magdalena; van Banning, Theo; Gudmundsdóttir, Gudrún; Chamoun, Christine; van Genugten, Willem J.M. (2004). "Human rights reference handbook" (3rd ed. rev. ed.). Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica: University of Peace p.3