Interview with Josie George, founder of social entreprise AMMA Sri Lanka

 

“I would rather sell less at a fair price and stand by my values”

“Mother made, naturally dyed, handcrafted” are the values of AMMA Sri Lanka, a social enterprise founded by the British couple Josie and Warren in the Sri Lankan highlands. Josie’s qualification and expertise in the field of textile together with the local charity Child Action Lanka helped AMMA to become a successful ethical label that supports women in the community. The Circle member Dushy, who lives in Sri Lanka, caught up with Josie to talk about ethical values in business, the living wage and natural dyes.

At The Circle, we work on projects that create jobs for women and help them start businesses. The unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is much higher among women than among men and most of your employees are women. Why is employing women important to you?

The high unemployment rate amongst women in Sri Lanka, particularly mothers living on Sri Lanka’s tea estates, was the initial problem we wanted to address by starting AMMA. Working with women is important to us because we see them as key change makers within their community; by employing and training mothers we are directly impacting their children and families. It is much more sustainable and inspiring for children if they experience their mother grow in confidence, earn a fair wage and learn new skills as a solution to breaking out of poverty. It also makes sense for us to employ women —all of our women have shown a great desire to work and contribute to the family finances. These are hard working women who still complete their household responsibilities before and after work. Bringing these women together provides them with a space outside of the home to connect and support each other.

You pay a living wage to your female employees. How does it impact on the product’s prices and organisation?

Yes, our starting wage is double that of the starting wage of other local industries in Hill Country, such as tea picking or garment factory work. I believe that it gives our Amma makers value for the skills they have obtained with us and it adds value to our products. It does increase the price of what we make but I would rather sell less at a fair price and stand by my values than get swayed by the few who don’t understand our ethics and what handmade is truly worth.

AMMA is a social entreprise. How do you reinvest back into the community?

AMMA has been running for one year, which we view as a pilot year. This has given us time to explore different models of working and become accustomed to the particular needs of the tea picking communities. We broke even during our pilot year and once we start to turn a profit we plan to reinvest that money back into our new partner NGO Tea Leaf Trust who work extensively with young people living on Sri Lanka’s tea estates through their centers of professional development.

What do you have to do to make sure the product meets and end-to-end eco-friendly approach, within a fair and safe environment for your employees?

For us, as a young start up it means constantly working towards improving our supply chain. We have just started working with a women’s cooperative in the North of Sri Lanka who weave all our raw unbleached cotton fabric. This means we employ more women in the process of making our products and we have greater knowledge of where our fabric comes from. We dye this fabric naturally using plants (eucalyptus leaves, madder root, indigo, Nelli fruit) and food waste (onion skins, avocado stones, pomegranate skins) some of which we forage locally or collect from hotels and cafes. Using plant dyes means its safer for our employees, safer for our customers and doesn’t pollute water ways. It is also a good way to repurpose waste produce before composting. Our employees work in a nice environment, with child care provided by Child Action Lanka, a local NGO. They work 9 am – 1 pm whilst the children are in school. We pay them a fair wage for their work, and because of this we have many women each month asking if we have vacancies.

Can you tell us about the women you employ and what they like about working at AMMA?

The women we employ are currently aged between 24 and 27 and are all mothers to young children. They live on Sri Lanka’s tea estates in line rooms, which are simple concrete structures comprising of two rooms. These buildings haven’t changed much since the British built them at the height of the tea industry, when people of Tamil Indian origin were brought over to work on the plantations. The estates are hard places to live in, with 80% of tea estate men being alcoholics and 83% of women suffering from domestic violence (of which 20% is sexual). The women we employ have decided against working as tea pluckers, all have married young. Some had not worked previously and other worked at garment factories across Sri Lanka.

The whole process of extracting colours from natural sources sounds interesting and challenging. What is your drive to persist in order to give us an ethical and sustainable output?

Natural colour is a delicate ever-changing medium to work with; so many factors contribute to the final outcome —water quality, light, diversity of plant matter, time and the mordant used. It takes a lot of patience and experimentation to achieve the colors you want. The difference in our dyeing practice when we started a year ago to now is huge. Day by day it feels like we grow more aware of the process and the various elements that need to harmonize to produce the final outcome. The drive and patience to build a social enterprise using natural dyes comes from a belief that true sustainability is growing, from our desire to harvest and cultivate our colour from the land and from the prospect of how many jobs this can offer to a region with high unemployment levels. We aren’t there yet, these things take time and my belief is that you just need to start somewhere and the rest you’ll work out along the way.

Written by Dushy Rabinath, a member of The Circle with an interest in sustainable fashion and The Lawyers Circle’s Living Wage project.


The Lawyers Circle’s 8th anniversary: from the Maputo Protocol to the Living Wage

Proto credit: Nader Elgadi | Melanie Hall QC, co-founder of The Lawyers Circle, alongside Livia Firth, both of whom are ambassadors and founding members of The Circle.

Eight years ago today, Miriam Gonzalez and Melanie Hall QC founded The Lawyers Circle with the aim of bringing together female lawyers who could use their skills to further women’s rights.

To celebrate their anniversary, we’ve rounded up some of their past and ongoing projects.

Influencing change with the Maputo Protocol

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also known as the Maputo Protocol, provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect the rights of African women, including the end of discrimination, violence, exclusion and poverty. Of the 54 members of the African Union, 51 have signed it and 36 of those have signed and ratified it.

The Lawyers Circle published a report where they reviewed whether the Protocol was reflected in national legal frameworks and was being implemented effectively.

Helping end gender-based violence in Kenya

Helen Mountfield QC, Anna Bugden, Monica Arino, Elsa Groumelle and Cathryn Hopkins of The Lawyers Circle worked with Equality Now to support Kenyan lawyers in developing a test case to establish a broad ambit for positive obligations to protect women from gender-based violence. The research evaluated the relevant instruments and the most significant case law from the United Nations, the Inter-American Court, Africa and the Council of Europe in order to identify, summarise and provide links to potentially useful materials for the Kenyan lawyers to use.

Maternal Health Rights in Tanzania

In Tanzania 398 out of every 100,000 women die from pregnancy or birth-related causes. In the UK, the ratio is 10 out of every 100,000. The Tanzanian government has made promises to its people to improve these rates by setting out its goals to reduce maternal mortality and by signing up to international conventions and initiatives. However, the government’s obligations under these conventions have not been made national law.

The Lawyers Circle has made a commitment to our partner the UN Every Woman Every Child Campaign to assist the Tanzanian government in the process of ratifying and introducing international conventions on maternal health rights into the national institutions and legal system.

A living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion industry

In some countries, 80% of garment workers are women. Very often, they only earn a fraction of what they need to live.

Multinational fast fashion companies are able to quickly move their production to countries with lower wages. The risk of losing this investment acts as a disincentive for countries to improve their labour laws and provide fair minimum wage rules. The result is labour protection is kept to a minimum, and essential rights to freedom of association are not guaranteed.

The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, has written a report that argues that a living wage is a fundamental right and that companies and governments have a responsibility to uphold this right.

We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current trend of keeping wages as low as possible and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry which will ensure that companies pay a living wage and will hold them accountable when they don’t. Our first step was to take the report to the European Parliament, where it was debated on 20 February 2018.


5 Life Hacks to Help Change the Fashion Industry

Photo: The Music Circle’s Rumble in the Jumble, London.

Cheap food and fashion often means someone, somewhere, is paying the price.

Organisations like Fairtrade aim to stop this by helping people in the world’s most marginalised communities escape poverty, strengthen their districts and promote environmental sustainability.

A good way to know whether a product has been ethically produced and sourced is by checking whether it has the Fairtrade Mark. While a useful trick, this probably isn’t news to you, and it only works for products that you can find in a supermarket. What happens with clothes or accessories? How can we make sure that we are responsible consumers of fashion?

Here at The Circle, we believe that every woman and girl deserves the right to a fair, living wage — and many companies and governments, at present, are failing to withhold this right.

As well as our report on the living wage in the fashion industry, we look at the ways that we, as consumers, can be more ethical when purchasing everything from coffee and tea, to haircare and knitwear.

1. Shop smart, then do your part

Download the Buycott app. It allows you to select the causes you’re most passionate about, such as supporting Fairtrade, boycotting human trafficking and child labour companies, and ending animal testing.

Once you’ve picked the causes important to you, you can scan any potential purchases to see how ethical the company that you’re buying from is and avoid the ones with conflicting campaigns.

2. Ask brands to do better

Never underestimate the power that you have as a consumer. From using things such as the Buycott app, it will soon become clear that some of the brands you use have exploited workers in the past, or still do.

A great way of voting for change is by supporting the brands that are eco-conscious and treat their workers fairly, and avoiding the ones that are not. However, you should also use your voice. The wonderful world of social media makes it easier than ever to make large brands aware of consumers’ wishes, so hop on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and ask these brands to reform. Whether it’s with hashtags, petitions, or even a viral video — make your voice heard.

3. #30wears Challenge

Historically, clothing has been something we have held onto for a long time, but with cheap clothing now available in abundance, clothes are beginning to be seen as disposable.

A good way of avoiding the “buy and discard” trap is the #30wears challenge, popularized by The Circle co-founder Livia Firth. Next time you’re going to buy an item of clothing or accessory, ask yourself: “Will I wear this at least 30 times?”. If the answer is “yes”, buy it. That way, you will be building a sustainable wardrobe full of clothes that you love and will keep forever.

4. Recycle and upcycle

Even the most conscientious fashion consumers grow out of their clothes sometimes, or their clothes grow out of fashion. Next time you’re having a wardrobe clear-out, consider the following options:

  • Donate the garments to charity or a women’s refuge.
  • Recycle them properly at a clothing/textile bank (often found in supermarket car parks).
  • Fancy getting nifty with a needle? Why not give your clothes a new lease of life? For example, turn an old patterned dress into a new tube skirt, or even a fancy new cushion cover.
  • 5. Support a project

    Whether you host a fundraising coffee morning with friends or donate to a project of your choice, there are many ways you can help prevent the exploitation of workers worldwide.

    For example, The Lawyers Circle, in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, published a report in spring 2017 that set out the legal argument to defend the living wage as a fundamental right, and the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right. The report argues the need to develop a global standard for a living wage.

    This, however, is just the beginning of the work The Circle plans to do to ensure that garment industry workers — who are predominantly women — earn a living wage. We are planning a two-year campaign to stop the current “race to the bottom” and to propose a new architecture for the garment industry to ensure compliance and accountability for workers to receive a living wage.

    To read the report or to make a donation to help create a “race to the top” by protecting the rights of millions of workers and push to getting them a living wage, please visit our website.


    @shanhodge
    Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.


    8 Things You Should Know about Fast Fashion

     

    The fast fashion industry has been a hot topic at The Circle this year. Back in May, The Lawyers Circle published a report that sets out the legal argument that a living wage is a fundamental right. We are now planning a two-year campaign to ensure accountability in the fashion industry, to tackle the poverty wages that blight garment workers’ lives.

    With that in mind, here are eight facts you should know about the clothes you wear…

    1. The global apparel industry is worth $3000,000,000,000,000

    Yes, you read that right: the fashion industry has global revenues of three trillion US dollars. To put that into perspective, you could buy seven million Ferraris with that money, or put fifty million students through university. There’s a lot of money to be made.

    2. Much of this revenue comes from fast fashion

    Fast fashion is a globalised business strategy which aims to get low-price clothes to the consumer as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Designs seen on the catwalk one week might hit the shops a fortnight later. This is a relatively recent phenomenon (global clothing production doubled between 2000 and 2014) and an incredibly lucrative one. For fast fashion companies, that is.

    3. While companies profit, their workers suffer

    Transnational fashion corporations (the big brand names in fashion) are the real winners in this situation. They can quickly move their production to the lowest-wage states to maximise their profits. Meanwhile, the economies of producer companies have become highly dependent on the sector. This has created a “race to the bottom”, whereby states allow poverty wages in order to attract investment. Garment workers earn just $140 per month in Cambodia, $171 in parts of China and $315 in Romania.

    4. Poverty wages aren’t just an issue in South Asia

    The Lawyers Circle’s report on the living wage looks at clothing production in a range of countries, from Bangladesh to Morocco, from Portugal to Romania. Garment factories are spread across the globe, but their geographical diversity belies a fundamental similarity: they offer some of the lowest wage rates and worst labour conditions on earth.

    5. It is mainly women who are affected

    Between 60 and 75 million people work in the textile, clothing and footwear sector worldwide. Almost three quarters of them are women — 3.2 million in Bangladesh alone. Unfortunately, women are easier targets for exploitation and discrimination: they are more vulnerable to intimidation and sexual violence, and less likely to agitate for their rights.

    6. Garment workers have been forced to develop coping strategies

    Struggling to survive on the minimum wage, garment workers have to cut corners wherever they can. They might take out high-interest loans to pay for school books, or do extensive overtime to cover their utility bills. Many workers are foregoing vital medical treatment in order to save money, and thousands are cutting back on food (one campaigning organisation found that female garment workers could only afford to eat half the calories they needed, and would frequently faint at work as a result).

    7. Paying the minimum wage is not enough

    Plenty of well-known fashion companies argue that they pay their workers the national minimum wage, and should therefore be exempt from criticism. They do this knowing that the minimum wage (the lowest wage permitted by law) falls far short of the living wage (the amount needed to maintain a normal standard of living). In Cambodia, for example, garment workers can legally be paid just 6% of what they need to live a normal life. Paying the minimum wage is not enough: workers need an income that can comfortably feed their families; they need better working conditions and protection.

    8. But there is hope!

    Since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,334 garment workers, some progress has been made on improving conditions and wages in the garment industry. There have been numerous reports, initiatives, roadmaps and pilot projects, though most of these have yet to be implemented on a wide scale. Major brands have committed to paying the living wage, albeit with a temporal disclaimer – “eventually”, “at some point in the future”.

    The Circle and The Lawyers Circle are working to accelerate the process, to ensure that companies accept responsibility for their actions and make concrete improvements to workers’ lives.

    The facts in this article have been drawn from the report Fashion Focus: The Fundamental Right to a Living Wage, produced by The Lawyers Circle in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign. Click here to read the full report, and donate to help us guarantee a living wage for all garment workers.


    Karigari London — an exhibition of artisanal Indian fashion and decor

     

    Karigari London, 2017 — press release. 

    The Asian Circle was delighted to be the charity partner at this year’s Karigari London exhibition. The event took place at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan centre, in West Kensington, London, between 22 and 25 June 2017.

    The term ‘karigari’ in Hindi means a craftsman who specialises in traditional arts. Six like-minded women entrepreneurs have come together, creating the first UK-based collective to celebrate and showcase the rich craftsmanship of Indian artisans. The collective is based on their love for preserving traditional heritage and slow sustainable fashion.

    Curations included handwoven fabrics, embroideries, artworks, silver and gemstone jewellery, traditional clothes, rugs and other homewares from India and South Asia.

    The three-day event kickstarted with a launch reception on the Thursday evening. Speakers included The Asian Circle founder Santosh Bhanot, who talked about the importance of the work that The Asian Circle is doing alongside Oxfam in South Asia. Santosh said that ‘The Asian Circle’s ethos of “women empowering women” is very much at the forefront in this partnership. Much of the art comes from the talent in small villages where traditional arts skills are practised to form beautiful creations with fine sensibilities’.

    Complimentary drinks and snacks flowed as the evening went on before the first day of the exhibition came to a close.

    The next day, visitors started arriving from 11 am to see some of the best Karigari work on show in London. Guests were so impressed with the work on show that competition was rife for who would end up taking home some of the clothing on display!

    The Asian Circle had a constant presence at the event to raise awareness about violence against women and funds for their project in central and east India. The Asian Circle sold handmade chokers designed by C-atomic, and raffle tickets to win a beautiful Gond tribal bronze statue, handcrafted by the leader of one of the women support groups that The Asian Circle has helped set up in India.

    A massive thank you has to go to the designers for inviting The Asian Circle, as well as pledging a very generous donation to the project. We look forward to next year’s Karigari!

    The Asian Circle’s work in India

    The Asian Circle and Oxfam are supporting survivors of gender-based violence in rural areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. Oxfam and The Asian Circle are setting up support groups and shelters for survivors and organising debate groups to challenge the social acceptance of violence against women.

    To find out more about the project and donate, please visit our Brave New World project page.


    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.

    (…)


    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.

    (…)

    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.

    (…)


    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.