Is ‘sustainability’ solely ecological?

When it comes to fashion sustainability, the main talking point is ecological. But, sustainability is more than how fashion affects the environment, it’s about how it affects people across the supply chain.

Garment production is full of inequality, and the lack of transparency from brands makes me question what actually goes on. I listened to a lecture by Liz Parker, Sustainable Researcher and Facilitator. She spoke about the people subjected to sexual harassment, violence, long hours, and awful working conditions. The majority of people working in the garment industry are women of colour and European men, women, and children. Those that profit from the industry are mainly white, European, and American men. Social sustainability ‘isn’t about charity, it’s about changing business practices and being authentic.’

Rana Plaza Collapse

On the 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed. Garment workers begged to not be sent inside as cracks had appeared in the building the day before. In less than 90 seconds 1,134 people were killed, and 2,500 were injured. Multiple clothing brands sourced their clothes from this building, including Bonmarche, Matalan, and Primark. There was worldwide criticism of the fashion industry and their treatment of workers. There are now safety initiatives in place, but wages are still the lowest in the world and there is still inequality across the supply chain. Despite what happened in 2013, not much has happened to protect workers.

The Fallacy of Clean Luxury

Ian Davies’ ‘Fallacy of Clean Luxury’ means that consumers often connect luxury fashion with sustainability, thinking that sustainability is evident throughout the supply chain; however, this isn’t necessarily the case. There is still inequality in luxury fashion, so don’t be fooled by the ‘Made in Italy’ label. These labels often mean finished in Italy, but made elsewhere by garment workers suffering from inequality every day.

How is Covid-19 affecting garment workers?

It’s still possible to place online orders from most fashion brands during this pandemic. But, what does this mean for the garment workers that are making and packing your orders? I came across a live blog of how the virus is actually affecting garment workers worldwide – click this link to see for yourself. Some factories have closed, but many remain open and have provided PPE for its workers; however, there is still justifiable worry from workers about their safety.

In Albania, it’s been reported that due to the decrease in orders, factories have voluntarily closed. But, workers are not getting paid and when safety measures were put in place and they returned to work, they were still not paid for the time spent not working. Factories in Central America are beginning to close, but with no clarity on how much or if workers will get paid. In India, workers are having to walk long distances home as public transport is suspended – their employers are not offering any type of transport that would ensure they got home safely.

This kind of narrative is being reported from multiple countries across the globe, and some factories are not even providing PPE for workers, with some being dismissed due to school closures.

This virus has affected businesses on a great scale as it’s such an uncertain time. But, the lack of clarity and frankly the lack of care for garment workers is putting them and their families at risk. When buying clothes, especially in the current climate, it’s important to question where your clothes are coming from. Who is making your clothes and what condition are they working in? It’s the responsibility of the industry to change its practices; we need to have equality at every step of the supply chain, because without garment workers, there would be no industry.

Please check out the Clean Clothes Campaign’s live blog, they provide daily updates on what’s happening globally. My thoughts are with these workers who are having their rights violated and are going through economic challenges made even greater by this pandemic. My thoughts are also with everyone affected by this pandemic, stay safe and stay inside!

S x

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