The Lawyers Circle Groundbreaking Living Wage Report in the Media

The Circle member and co-founder Livia Firth and The Circle member Jessica Simor at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. (Photo credit: Copenhagen Fashion Summit)

On 11 May 2017, The Lawyers Circle launched a groundbreaking report at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage reviews the minimum and living wages, and the protection of workers’ rights in fourteen major garment-producing countries to argue that a living wage is a fundamental right and that brands have a responsibility to ensure that garment workers are paid a living wage.

This is what the media has been saying about it.

Livia Firth Highlights Major Problems in the Fashion Industry

It’s no secret that the fashion industry has a problem when it comes to sustainability. Not only is clothing one of the biggest contributors of waste in the world, manufacturing conditions have contributed to a humanitarian crisis across the globe. It’s these reasons that have led the industry’s top brands to come together to work toward a solution. Thursday, at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, founder of Eco Age Ltd. Livia Firth, fashion designer, Prabal Gurung, Hugo Boss CEO Mark Langer, and brands like Adidas and H&M, came together to figure out a way to make the necessary changes.

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At Copenhagen Summit, Turning Sustainability Commitments Into Action

“Do any of you remember the 10-year plan of action we launched in 2009? No?” said Eva Kruse, president and chief executive of the Global Fashion Agenda, which organises the annual sustainability-focused Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Kruse was speaking at the latest instalment of the event — held in the Danish capital’s Koncerthuset — in front of an assemblage of fashion leaders and sustainability experts from around the world, many of whom shared her frustration with the industry’s lack of action on the issue.

To be sure, fashion’s attention span is short — and, when it comes to sustainability, talk can be cheap. “If we had to go to yet another conference where we hear pledges, promises, targets to achieve, discussions on what it will look like, we will all become old before it actually happens,” said Livia Firth later in the day, echoing Kruse’s frustration.

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The Circle at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit and the first report on fashion wages

That future fashion must necessarily evolve towards a more ethical and sustainable dimension is a fact. Numerous brands have already adopted solutions in this vein. And initiatives and organizations fighting for equality in fashion from all points of view, starting with workers’ rights, are growing steadily.

On the occasion of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit held on May 11, 2017, The Circle presented its first report on wages in the global fashion industry. The NGO founded by Annie Lennox and Livia Giuggioli, the wife of actor Colin Firth, examines the highly remunerative fast fashion sector and concludes that a living wage is a fundamental human right, which all States are obliged to guarantee.

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Surround Yarl’s Wood: Don’t Let Some of the Most Vulnerable Women in the UK Be Forgotten

Image: Women wave at protesters from their rooms in Yarl’s Wood.

On 13 May 2017, the women detained at Yarl’s Wood saw the biggest crowd to date protesting outside the metal fences that separate them from fields of yellow flowers.

After the train journey to Bedford and a fifteen-minute coach ride to the middle of nowhere, we joined over a thousand people outside the business park that houses the immigration removal centre, along with a pet crematorium and an indoor skydiving centre.

Together we marched past fields and around the business park until we reached Yarl’s Wood’s fences. At the other side, women’s hands waved at us through the small gaps that their windows open up to.

Detained indefinitely

Over 400 detainees are currently being held at Yarl’s Wood, most of whom are women. They are asylum seekers and “illegal” immigrants held without trial, waiting to be deported. And the wait can be long. In fact, the UK is the only country in the EU that doesn’t have a time limit for detention.

A parliamentary report from 2015 shows that spending more than 28 days in detention can be “catastrophic” for someone’s mental health. And yet the longest-serving detainee at Yarl’s Wood, Mabel Gawanas, was released on 6 May 2017, after three long years in detention. She has now been reunited with her eight-year-old daughter following years of fighting for her – and her fellow detainees’ – freedom.

People who are taken into a detention centre do not know how long they will be held before they are released or deported. Many of the women detained fled countries where they were at risk of violence or female genital mutilation, only to be met with more violence in a continent where they thought they would be safe.

“We are kept like animals”

We banged on the fences, we played music. Detainees could be heard shouting “we want freedom” from their windows. Some of the women inside the detention centre called a phone that was plugged into some speakers. “I want freedom, please!” one of them said, “I have two children”.

Yarl’s Wood is run by the private-sector company Serco. The company was offered a new eight-year contract by the government in 2014 (for £70 million) despite allegations of sexual abuse and human rights violations being made for over a decade.

A year after the contract renewal, an inspection carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in April and May 2015 found that the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was “not meeting the needs of vulnerable women” and that it had “deteriorated since the last inspection and that needs of women held [had] grown”.

A Channel 4 undercover documentary from 2014 revealed the racism and misogyny with which some of the staff members talked about detainees: “Should’ve f***ing headbutted the b**ch” said one, while another said: “Some of those women in there are horrible… There’s a lot of them that are really nice. But some of them, these black women, they’re f***ing horrible, mate”.

Women inside Yarl’s Wood have accused Serco’s staff of sexual abuse and humiliating treatment, including watching them take showers, walking into their rooms without warning while they were getting changed, strip searching and offering them help to be released in exchange for sex. Self-harm and suicide attempts are not uncommon and the prevalence of mental health issues amongst detainees is high.

One of the most alarming accusations is that many women aren’t getting the health services or psychological support that they need.

“Mothers are separated from children, disabled people are kept who cannot help themselves, mentally ill detainees are kept … who do not have support”, said Mabel Gawanas, who has taken part in every Surround Yarl’s Wood protest, but on Saturday did so from the other side of the fence for the very first time.

“The officials and managers are not professional people to deal with people who have been victims of torture, victims of rape and mentally ill detainees… we are kept there like animals”, she said.


Image: Mabel Gawanas at the protest outside Yarl’s Wood on 13 May 2017.

In her heart-breaking speech, Mabel addressed the women who are still detained at Yarl’s Wood and who were listening from their windows: “I told you I would come back and I have kept my promise. I am there with you. I will never forget you”.

It is not difficult to imagine the isolation that the women at Yarl’s Wood must feel, the sense of having been forgotten by everyone except for a few campaigners and support groups, while inside they are protesting, going on hunger strikes and waiting indefinitely for someone else to decide their future.

Surround Yarl’s Wood is not only a demand to shut down all detention centres. It is also a cry of solidarity, a way of showing that other people care and to bring the women inside fresh hope as they continue to fight for their freedom.

If you would like to get involved or attend the next Surround Yarl’s Wood, follow Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary.


@ccroslandm
Clare Crosland is the Projects and Communications Officer at The Circle.


The Circle Calls for Three-trillion-dollar Fashion Industry to Pay Living Wage

A substantive report into wages in the global fashion industry is launched today at The Copenhagen Fashion Summit by fashion campaigner Livia Firth, human rights barrister Jessica Simor QC and journalist Lucy Siegle—all members of the women’s rights organization The Circle. Fashion Focus: the Fundamental Right to a Living Wage examines the highly remunerative fast fashion sector through a legal lens. It concludes that a living wage is a fundamental human right which all states are obliged to guarantee.

This is the first such report from The Circle, founded by Annie Lennox, the acclaimed singer, songwriter, human rights and social justice campaigner, who says, ‘I’m enormously proud that The Circle has produced this seminal report on the fundamental right of a Living Wage in the global fashion supply chain. It’s a strong piece of work that reflects the core purpose and mission of The Circle: women using their skills, expertise, networks and passion to help support and transform the lives of women and girls around the world’.

Masterminded by Jessica Simor QC, one of the UK’s leading specialists in human rights and public law, the report takes evidence from fourteen major garment hotspots across the globe, where the bulk of our fashion is produced. A network of legal professionals based in those countries each provide an up-to-date snapshot of wages and working conditions. Using this evidence, and working with industry experts such as The Clean Clothes Campaign and The Fair Wage Network, Simor and her team join the dots between international law, the fashion industry and human rights.

The report makes the legal case for Living Wage as a human right. It shows that living wages—remuneration sufficient to support the basic needs of a family and a decent life—have been recognised in international law for more than a century. Yet the fast fashion sector remains synonymous with poverty wages, directly affecting the 75 million garment workers in the supply chain, 85% of whom are women.

Livia Firth (Creative Director of Eco-Age, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and The Circle founding member) says: ‘It is today widely accepted that neither cheap clothes, nor vast corporate profits can justify the human suffering which is today involved in fast fashion supply chains. I consider this ground-breaking report as the beginning of a new era for the fashion industry where we will be able to treat garment workers as equals’.

Jessica Simor, QC says, ‘At the moment retailers and brands actively promote the fact that they pay minimum wage. But what we demonstrate in this report is that this is no answer. In none of the countries surveyed does the minimum wage come anywhere close to the living wage on any scale’.

‘Compliance with the UN Guiding Principles, by reference to the fundamental right to a living wage and principles of international labour law established nearly a century ago can put an end to the race to the bottom, stopping states from selling their people’s labour at less than the price of a decent life’.

Journalist and fashion activist Lucy Siegle says, ‘Working with lawyers of this calibre gives us the opportunity to broaden fashion advocacy. We urgently need new architecture for the global garment industry and we hope that this represents a substantial step forward on a living wage’.

The report is available to download here.

The Circle has launched a donation page to help fund the next phase of this important work.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The Circle and The Lawyers Circle

The Circle is a registered charity founded by Annie Lennox working to achieve equality for women in a fairer world. The Circle brings women from all walks of life together so that they can share stories and knowledge of the injustice and inequality many women across the globe face and take action to bring about the necessary change. Within The Circle is The Lawyers Circle—a network of women in the legal profession who lend their skills, network and resources to support and promote the rights of marginalized women worldwide. Those involved include senior partners, QCs, in-house lawyers and solicitors who work to promote and assist the rights of women in developing countries.

For more information about The Circle contact Sioned Jones, Executive Director (sioned@thecircle.ngo).

Livia Firth

Livia Firth is the creative director of Eco-Age (a brand consultancy company specialized in sustainability) and founder of The Green Carpet Challenge (Eco-Age communication arm). Livia Firth has executive produced, with Lucy Siegle, The True Cost—a documentary which highlights the environmental devastation and social justice implications of fast fashion worldwide. The movie is available on Netflix and on The True Cost website.

Lucy Siegle

British journalist and broadcaster Lucy Siegle is author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? and has spent ten years investigating the global fashion supply chain.

The Fair Wage Network

The Fair Wage Network was founded by Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead and Auret van Heerden with the aim to regroup all the actors involved along the supply chain and present in the CSR arena who would be ready to commit themselves to work to promote better wage practices. The idea is to set up an interactive and dynamic process involving NGOs, managers, workers’ representatives and researchers.

The Clean Clothes Campaign

The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global alliance of organisations which campaigns to promote and protect the fundamental rights of garment workers worldwide. One of its three key objectives is to campaign for a real living wage and over recent years it has been campaigning alongside workers’ organizations across Asia for the acceptance and implementation of an Asia Floor Wage.


Feminist Calendar: May and June

We are delighted to share with you the first issue of our Feminist Calendar. In this series of articles we will attempt to keep you posted on talks on feminist theory, art and poetry events, protests, and key dates in past and future struggles for gender equality.

the guardian
Photo credit: The Guardian.

13 May—Surround Yarls Wood

On Saturday, Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary is calling for the eleventh Surround Yarls Wood demonstration.

Staff at the privately-run Yarls Wood have been accused of humiliating and abusing the 400+ women who are indefinitely detained in the centre.

Join women on both sides of the notorious detention centre’s fences and demand the closure of all immigration detention centres.

24 May—Decolonizing ‘the angry Black woman’: Black feminist theory and practice in ‘post-race’ university spaces (London)

As feminism gains traction, it is essential to become aware of one’s own privilege and to understand that different women experience different kinds of oppression due to overlapping identities, including race, class, sexual orientation and disability.

Dr Shirley Tate, a Cultural Sociologist and Professor of Race and Education at Leeds Beckett University, is giving a free lecture at Birkbeck, University of London about how Black women ‘cope with silencing and erasure within white feminism whilst maintaining personal and Black feminist community cohesiveness’.

9 June (9 a.m.-12 p.m.)—The Scottish Circle Coffee Morning

The Scottish Circle, a network of members of The Circle that are based in Scotland, are hosting a Coffee Morning fundraiser at the Kilmalcolm Community Centre, in The Cargill Centre (Kilmalcolm).

For £2 you get entry to the event, coffee and cakes!

There will be a small market, and anyone can apply for a stall! Each stall costs £10 plus a 10% donation of your revenue to The Scottish Circle. All funds raised will be donated to Rape Crisis Glasgow.

For more information, please contact The Scottish Circle at poonamgupta178@gmail.com or Lana95@gmail.com.

9–14 June—Doc/Fest (Sheffield)

Comprising of inspirational documentary films from across the globe, controversial discussion panels and more, Sheffield Doc/Fest is a great place to go to see original films, which in the past have included films on women’s rights issues, and to meet brilliant female film-makers from around the world.

16–18 June—Grrrl Con 2017 (Manchester)

Write Like a Grrrl and For Books’ Sake created Grrrl Con to champion emerging women writers of all levels. Get inspired by top women writers—including Scarlett Thomas, Patience Agbabi and Jenn Ashworth—, attend workshops and collaborate with other aspiring writers.

This is what previous attendees have to say about Grrrl Con: ‘Before Grrrl Con I thought I’d never have a book but now apparently I’ve got two to finish. It showed me the ability I have, and how not to shy away from it!’

22–24 June—Feminist Emergency: International Conference (London)

This major international conference will bring together academics, activists, writers, professionals and policy makers to tackle the challenges that feminism faces in 2017, such as ‘austerity policies, increasing social inequalities’ and the increasing worldwide visibility of violence against women, including domestic violence, rape as a weapon of war, ‘honour’ killings and female genital mutilation. It will combine poetry readings with panels, in an interdisciplinary attempt to analyse how these issues affect feminism and ‘establish the forward looking nature of modern feminist expression and thought’.