Campaigning Against Fast Fashion

Photo credit: @extinctionrebellion

This month The Circle are focusing on raising awareness of ethical and sustainable concerns within the fast fashion industry. The #SecondHandSeptember campaign being led by Oxfam is something that we are supporting: promoting the importance of vintage and charity shopping as a stand against fast fashion and the poor conditions and pay of workers in the garment industry.

2019 has seen some incredible activism take place on issues concerning the industry. We have seen some powerful strikes and protests on the streets whilst also seeing some moving and alarming documentaries which are showing just how much of a crisis we are in. In April 2019 I wrote an article called ‘Who Made Your Clothes?’ in which I mention Livia Firth’s important argument about the complicated issue of not wanting to buy into the fast fashion industry, whilst also being aware of the fact that many women and girls earn their living from it. We need our governments to start recognising ways of tackling this complicated crisis.

“Activism works…see you on the streets” – Greta Thunberg, September 2019 Ambassadors of Conscience Awards

Second Hand September is all about encouraging consumers to rethink their perspective on the fashion industry by asking questions such as “Where and how was this t-shirt made?” How was it transported? What affect did the transport of this item have on our planet?” . One question leads onto another. The more questions we start asking, the more complicated they become. We find that we cannot find all of the answers because of lack of transparency and this is where it becomes deeply worrying. Not only are workers dying as a result of this industry, but also young children who are living amongst the waste that we have created and developing health issues such as cancer because of it.

This month we have seen millions of people across the world strike, protest and campaign about climate change. Over the past few years we have also seen people standing in solidarity against unethical practices of the fast fashion industry as well as brilliantly made whilst upsetting documentaries which expose them. Carry on reading to find out about these incredible campaigns and people who are taking action. Be inspired to also take action in your everyday life.

On Friday 20th September 2019 millions of people around the world protested the fact that although a climate emergency has been declared, our governments are not responding. So, like Greta, passionate advocates for saving our planet took to the streets. The Guardian called it the ‘biggest climate protest ever’. For the first time adults were asked to join and this led to people leaving their work places, including doctors and nurses. Education chiefs in New York City allowed the 1.1 million children the chance to ‘attend the climate strike and hear Thunberg speak at a rally at the United Nations headquarters.’ Every person on the planet is being called to action and we need to respond.

Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost

“Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, and repression of trade union rights are all commonplace” – Labour Behind the Label

Labour Behind the Label are challenging the ethical side of fast fashion and they are the ‘the only UK campaign group that focuses exclusively on labour rights in the global garment industry.’ They are dedicated to holding brands accountable for their lack of transparency. This incredible campaign endeavours to form international solidarity. One of the amazing things they have done has been to push UK retailers to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Labour Behind the Label is physically changing peoples’ lives. Another important part of their work are the reports that they research and publish which is vital for ensuring that we hear the truth.

Many incredible campaigns and documentaries are challenging the fast fashion industry and revealing its corrupt and hidden secrets. On 18th September 2019 a documentary called Breaking Fashion aired on BBC Three. The series follows the company In The Style who launch a collection every two weeks in collaboration with fashion influencers. The CEO Adam Frisby states that he likes to challenge anyone who says fast fashion is unsustainable. As the episode unfolded, we witness the problems that the fast fashion industry is criticized for, as being fundamental parts to how this company operates. For example, needing their factory in China to produce a size 12 product and fly it across the world in 48 hours is highlighting issues such as air pollution and the amount of plastic packaging required. What is more, who are the garment workers? We know that clothing is made in both Chinese and UK factories but what are the factory conditions like? What materials are used? If companies like In The Style want to challenge the criticism that the fast fashion industry receives then they need to show more transparency in the manufacturing process. Refinery 29 support this as Jazmin Kopotsha quoted Frisby “When people think fast fashion, that it means it’s not sustainable and it means they don’t care, I like to challenge that,” Adam tells the camera. Kopotsha then argues “In the first episode at least, it’s not explicitly clear how In The Style does so.” How can it be possible for fast fashion and sustainability to work in harmony?

Producing clothing fast means something has to give. Manufacturers don’t want to shut down or raise their prices. So, ultimately, that something is a human life. Andrew Morgan, director of the film The True Cost (2015) states that “cutting corners and disregarding safety measures had become an accepted part of doing business” until the Rana Plaza collapse. The footage of the collapse is harrowing to watch and shines a serious light on the hidden and corrupt side of fast fashion. People were saying that they could still hear screaming underneath the rubble. They were crying out for help. Lucy Siegle, one of three Executive Producers of the film asks us to question why these businesses are not able to support human rights “whilst generating these tremendous profits[…]Is it because it doesn’t work properly? That is my question.”

“The whole system begins to feel like a perfectly engineered nightmare for the workers trapped inside of it.” – Andrew Morgan

Photo credit: Film still from The True Cost

When we compare Breaking Fashion with The True Cost it is hard to look at fast fashion in the same way again. According to Lucy Siegle for The Guardian, Andrew Morgan and producer Michael Ross “have joined the dots between fashion, consumerism, capitalism and structural poverty and oppression, and will never shop in the same way again”. For those of you who have not seen this documentary I would really urge you to. The film reveals the human cost of fast fashion in which we are all complicit. We are all responsible. And we are all capable of stopping this “engineered nightmare” .

If you would like to learn more about fast fashion, please read further into the following and be inspired by the collective voice of fast fashion activists and campaigns striving to make their governments listen.

Some of the people to follow:

– Livia Firth, one of the Founders of The Circle and Eco-age and Executive Producer of The True Cost.
– Lucy Siegle, Journalist and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?
– Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist
– Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist and author
– Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up
– Stacy Dooley, BBC documentary Fashion’s Dirty Secrets

Campaigns:

– The Circle’s advocacy work arguing that the living wage is a fundamental human right, which you can donate to here.
The Clean Clothes Campaign is based in the UK and represented by Labour Behind the Label.
Extinction Rebellion who are inviting you to join them at 10am Monday 7th October for a two week peaceful protest the streets of central London as they demand change from our British Government.
Centre of Sustainable Fashion at UAL

Photo credit: @extinctionrebellion

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


Shining a Light on Female War Reporters

This month The Circle is encouraging their supporters to #WidenYourCircle by sharing inspirational stories of women empowering women.

With this in mind, I decided to write about the incredible Marie Colvin and two inspirational female photographers who risked their lives, pushed through and broke down gender norms in this field of work and amplified the voices of women. These photographers are Lee Miller (1907-1977) and Christine Spengler (*1945). I was inspired to write this article from reading the catalogue Women War Photographers: From Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus which was created from the exhibition. The exhibition is being shown at the Fotomuseum Winterhur from 29th February to 17th May 2020.

“When they tried to get a picture, they’d have 10 men pushing them out of the way” – Marilyn Kushner

As Felix Kramer who is the Director General of the Museum Kunstpalast, argues, war and conflict still has masculine connotations despite the fact that women have also shaped our view of worldwide conflicts.[1] A lack of educational opportunities and social acceptance meant that it was only towards the end of the 19th century that women were allowed to study photography.[2] In the Second World War women were still not permitted to photograph on the front and their assignments were mainly photographing hospitals and civilians.[3]

In 1942 Lee Miller stated ‘“Just treat me like one of the boys”[…]when asked under what rules she was willing to work as one of the few women among many men.’[4] This reveals just how hard and brave it was for women to fight for their place in the male-dominated world of photojournalism. In July 1944 Miller was assigned to a field hospital in Normandy and it is her background in the art of Surrealism and the use of her own reports that made her stand out amongst the male photographers, as Felicity Korn also suggests. Korn goes on to argue that her work breaks with the ‘“classic”’ style of war photography[5] and that it is Miller’s background as a model and fashion and fine art photographer that led to her becoming Vogue’s War Correspondent.[6] Through believing in her own artistic choices, Miller showed that it is her skill as a photographer that should determine where she is assigned, not gender. Although it must be addressed that according to Anne-Marie Beckmann and Felicity Korn, female photographers have said that ‘reporting as a woman from crisis zones can work to their advantage” as it is easier for them to meet with families and women affected by war.[7]

“I wanted to report on just causes. If you ask me…’What do you consider a just cause?’, then I always say, ‘I stand on the side of the oppressed.” – Christine Spengler

1970: an armed regional conflict was taking place in Chad and Spengler, with her younger brother at the time, got out her 28mm camera and started taking pictures. This led to her arrest and jail time for several weeks.[9] According to Ingo Borges, this experience led Spengler to become one of the greatest war photographers. But Spengler had a different focus; instead photographing the everyday lives of women and children who were affected by war.[10] Spengler really captures the fact that these people are trapped inside a country at war with no choice but to protect themselves, their families and carry on daily life. Spengler manages to capture moments of laughter among the children who are unaware and innocent to the reality of war. In other images we see a woman defending her home with a gun, a mother carrying her baby whilst a gun is slung on her left shoulder (a female fighter of the Polisario Front in Western Sahara 1976, p. 139). Another, we see a young boy crying over his dead father in Cambodia, 1974 (p.133). Spengler captures moments which would have unlikely been focused on, but it is these moments which capture the humanity in wars of violence and destruction.

 It is the incredible strength, belief and perseverance of women like Lee Miller and Christine Spengler who made it possible for journalists like Marie Colvin to report on the front lines as one of the most brave and talented war correspondents in history. Colvin worked for the Sunday Times and in February 2012 was killed in Syria “reporting the injustices of conflict, determined to uncover truth from one of the most dangerous places on earth.” Colvin was passionate about women’s rights and would mentor young female journalists who were entering into the same profession. The Marie Colvin Circle was set up in her memory by her friends. This circle supports the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, a network that works with local female journalists in conflict zones. This important type of journalism is met with life threatening situations of violence, threats and kidnapping. The Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA) have over 100 local female journalists who are supported by this network. They can receive practical support and mentoring as well as network with local journalists in the area. Psychological support is also something the network offers as these women are working alone and under incredibly difficult and dangerous circumstances. Other types of support are also offered which you can read here.

Women like Lee Miller, Christine Spengler and Marie Colvin are such an important part of showing how no person should limit or question another’s ability because of their gender. If men can report on the front lines, so should women; as many female journalists have proven. They too have made history, and we must continue to remind ourselves of their work and inspire others to continue fighting for gender equality in journalism.

Click here to find out more about The Marie Colvin Journalist Network.

[1] Women War Photographers: From Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus, p.9.

[2] See footnote 1, Introduction by Anne-Marie Beckmann and Felicity Korn, p. 11.

[3] See footnote 2, p. 16.

[4] See footnote 1, p. 47. Original reference quoted on p. 51 as ‘“How Famous People Cook: Lady Penrose, the Most Unusual Recipes You Have Ever Seen”, in Vogue USA, April 1974, pp. 160-61, 186-87.’

[5] See footnote 1, p. 50.

[6] See footnote 1, pp. 49-50.

[7] See footnote 1, p. 18.

[8] See footnote 1,p. 123. Original reference quoted on p. 125 is ‘Christine Spengler, in an interview in Sigrid Faltin’s documentary film Kriegsfotografinnen: Der Kampf um Bilder, Leben und Tod, SWR/arte, 2016.’

[9] See footnote 1, p.123. Original reference quoted on p. 125 as ‘Christine Spengler, Une femme dans la guerre, Paris 1991, p. 19.’

[10] See footnote 1, p.123.

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.


Cybersex Trafficking

Photo credit: International Justice Misson

This month at The Circle, we have delved deeper into the issue of human trafficking and have learnt a huge amount from our project partner ACT Alberta about what makes women vulnerable to traffickers and what we can do ourselves to be more aware of trafficking victims in our own area. There are more people trapped in slavery than ever before in human history and in the following article, our volunteer Georgia takes a closer look at one of modern slavery’s most insidious practices, cybersex trafficking.

“We were left with no choice but to follow her instructions.” – Joy, a victim of cybersex trafficking for 7 years (10-17)

 

More than 40 million people are victim to different forms of slavery such as forced labour, child labour, domestic servitude and forced marriage. This month The Circle have been working to raise awareness of human trafficking among modern slavery, particularly for sex. According to the UK charity Anti-Slavery International, “human trafficking involves recruitment, harbouring or transporting people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will.” What’s more, there is another form of human trafficking which is increasing at a frightening rate.

“Cybersex trafficking is an emerging threat as internet access increases everywhere. Now, paedophiles anywhere in the world can direct live sexual abuse of boys and girls hidden in private homes.” (IJM)

 

Social Affairs Correspondent for The Independent, May Bulman, reported in November 2017 about a “new form of human trafficking that sees children forced to carry out sex acts while being live-streamed for paedophiles to watch online [which] is growing at an ‘alarming rate’, a charity has warned”. A victim as young as a two-month-old baby was reported.

The stories that victims have told of this injustice are extremely hard to read. International Justice Mission (IJM) is the largest anti-slavery organisation in the world. They work to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking among modern slavery. In February 2017 they posted a YouTube video called “What is Cybersex Trafficking?” where they explained how “Pedophiles and predators use the internet to abuse children in homes and cybercafes.” According to Alex Ilusoriio who is an Investigator with IJM Philippines, for as little as 100 dollars Western customers can watch children under 5 years old being abused by adults. This horrific and unspeakable form of abuse is destroying the lives of vulnerable children. IJM helps victims to share their stories in order to raise awareness. Just less than a year ago on 13th August 2018, IJM revealed the year-long investigation which resulted in the rescue of two young women, a teenage boy and a 12-year-old girl. One can only imagine the psychological damage as a result of this devastating crime. At the time of this report the children were receiving help from social workers.

On 20th February 2019 three operations took place to rescue 16 children over four days. Officers discovered that a man called Herman Arnett Ross, an American living in Pampanga, was “seeking to sexually exploit a teenage girl”. Days before Ross was arrested, IJM rescued 15 other children across the Philippines. The children are now receiving trauma therapy, revealing the heart-breaking psychological pain that victims of human trafficking are forced to endure.

IJM have stated cybersex trafficking to be an ‘emerging threat’. Indeed, according to this charity, a ‘simple internet connection’, ‘a webcam’ or ‘a mobile phone’ is all that is required for this form of sexual exploitation to take place and as internet access increases, so will this form of human trafficking.

Annie Kelly is a human rights journalist for the Guardian and Observer, also editor of the Guardian’s Modern-day slavery in focus series. Kelly reported for the Guardian in October 2018 on the case where “two women had been paid £33,000 by [Alain] Charlwood-Collings for procuring children as young as four and filming their rape and abuse. Some of the 46 children involved were the women’s own children or sisters. Others were the children of neighbours, or from the wider local community.” This took place for 10 years.

The fact that the abusers can hide for such a long period of time, shows how complex these operations are to report, find and arrest them. There are signs we can look out for in order to identify if a person is being exploited. According to Stop The Traffik, significant signs of sexual exploitation can include:

  • Having English vocabulary of only sexualised words
  • Emotional trauma as a result of their work
  • Restricted or no access to earnings
  • At a location the letterbox or doors of the property may appear to have been sealed from the inside

What can we do?

 

To understand more about how to spot the signs of sexual exploitation please visit this detailed page by Stop The Traffik.

Every month IJM reports one or more new cases of cybersex trafficking. This is just one charity alone. You can read the recent case reported last week on 25th July 2019 which highlights how this is a “a global crime that demands global collaboration.

By being aware we can all help to prevent these inhumane crimes. Joy, who I quoted at the beginning of this article, is now using her experience to help others. Joy argues that she believes slavery can be stopped: “I want it to stop. I believe it can stop, but I cannot do it alone.”

We can all be a part of this global collaboration and knowing just one of the signs above could potentially save a someone from unimaginable abuse.

“A Feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem

 

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.

 


Who Made Your Clothes?

 

Over the last few years the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical’ in relation to the fashion industry, have been taking the headlines by storm. On 24th April 2013, it was reported that a factory had collapsed in Bangladesh, leading to the deaths of more than 1,000 workers. Bangladesh is one of the largest garment producers in the world. When we shop on the high street there are no signposts signalling that slavery may be prevalent within their supply chains. We see these amazing garments and are excited to try them on and shop the latest trends but, we do not see the faces of the women who make these garments.

As a person who is highly interested in the craftmanship of clothes and the reinvention of trends, I am conflicted by how I can invest in this industry without contributing to the continuing unethical practices of the fashion industry. We need to make changes in how we make, source, and produce the clothes. Government bodies and retailers need to be made accountable: Eco-age is doing just that.

In an interview for the sustainability consultancy Eco-age, our very own Livia Firth who co-founded The Circle, describes the first time she visited a factory in Bangladesh. In 2013 Firth travelled with Oxfam and says it “changed my entire life”. They were “smuggled” into a factory where there were “armed guards at the doors so no one could come in and out”, “armed bars at the windows, no fire escape […] the floor was full of women who had to produce 100 pieces an hour and these women had no rights” such as no sick leave and only two toilet breaks a day. Even if their child was sick, not working would result in a loss of their jobs. As Livia Firth goes on to say, we are so far-removed from this horrific situation that it is hard to believe that the clothes we wear everyday are linked to this inhumane treatment.

Bangladesh is “such a vibrant, beautiful country, and the women deserve so much more” – Livia Firth

 

I love what Livia Firth also says in this EcoAgeTV video which you can watch on YouTube (see link above). The responsibility lies in all of us, not just the retailers and government bodies who have an immense responsibility to make changes.

The day after the crack was discovered in the factory, the garment workers did not want to go inside but they were threatened. The factory was under pressure to fulfil the orders. Nazma Aktar, Founder and Executive Director of the Awaj Foundation says, “the previous night, everybody knew the factory was not safe. The politicians and the manufacturers forced the workers to enter. It is murder.”

The garment industry is a complicated web of problems that are hard to solve. Aktar goes on to say that out of 4 million workers in the garment industry, 80% are women coming from very poor families who live in the countryside and entering into the urban economy. These jobs are very important for them. If their salaries go up, the factory will close down.

“The multi-nationals always said, if you price more we will leave this country, we will leave this business from Bangladesh.” – Nazma Aktay

 

 

On 11th May 2017 The Circle launched The Living Wage report in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. It is the first report to demand the Living Wage for garment workers.

The report sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental human right, and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

The report starts by clearly stating how efforts to prevent labour exploitation have been non-binding. They have been ‘voluntary codes and initiatives designed, implemented and monitored by the retail companies that control the supply chain, and normally developed in response to negative publicity generated by investigations carried out by NGOs or the media.’ This behaviour is corrupt. It is utterly inhumane that retailers are not upholding their responsibility to protect their workers. This is where the work that The Circle are doing is fundamental to making progress in the debate about the living wage. The Circle are combining activism and research within a legal framework. This report could really shake up the debate.

Ultimately though, as Firth reminds us, we all have a responsibility to change the face of fashion. We live in a throw-away society and when we discard a garment after only a couple of wears, we are not taking a moment to remember who made it. When we buy and buy and buy, we are giving these companies the means to produce more, faster; “we are completely complicit in the system”. But when we do not buy into this industry, we are taking away work from these women.

We “cannot boycott or stop buying because they need to work”

 So, we need to be actively seeking ways to go to the source of the problem, expose the corruption and improve the lives of these women who deserve so much more.

Firth tells Harper’s Bazaar Netherland of some useful tips for how we can shop differently and not treat these women like slave labour. We need to show them that “we really respect their work and we value the things that they make. So, when they sweat on their production line, producing 150 pieces an hour, make them know that we value them, that we are not going to wear them once or twice and then throw them away”

I would highly recommend reading the report (it’s a long one so grab a cup a tea and a couple of biscuits) and get ready to be thoroughly inspired.

Be part of the change. This is just the beginning.

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.