The average lifespan for an item of clothing in the UK is only 2.2 years. UK consumers send 11 million items a week to landfill, that’s over 5.5k tonnes of clothing a week (300k tonnes each year) – truly shocking.
To keep prices low, garment workers are often not paid a living wage… these are people from the poorest communities around the world, and this unfair treatment makes it impossible for them to work their way out of poverty.
Some of our team, members and volunteers have shared their favourite secondhand items to celebrate #SecondHandSeptember!
“I bought this bag from Pop Boutique in Leeds. This store is amazing for unusual vintage finds, especially bags. In this photo I wore it for a day out but I love it for an evening bag due to the strap length, unusual shape and the deep chestnut brown colour making it really stand out. I had been searching for a bag like this for ages and was so excited to come across it.”
Chloe is a social media volunteer for The Music Circle who is currently travelling around the world! “I just bought my new favourite dress for 20 reais (£4) in Río de Janeiro!”
“I had a huge vintage clothing haul last time I was in Manchester and found loads of great dresses, shirts and even a pair of jeans. I love this dress and wore it when I went on holiday to Paris.”
Shop secondhand! Why not challenge yourself not to buy any new clothes for the month of September? Alternatively, support the ’30 Wears Campaign’ started by our Ambassador Livia Firth by challenging yourself to ask the question “will I wear this 30 times?” before making a new purchase. The30 Wears Challenge is a great way to contribute to a more sustainable fashion world. You don’t need to give up buying the clothes you love or spend your days researching how ethical a company is
Read more about our Living Wage work, which 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, by clicking here.
Earlier this year, Sharon McClenaghan joined The Circle as the project manager for our Living Wage work. For September, we are focusing on the progress we’ve made with this project and wanted to give our readers this chance to hear from Sharon herself. We sat down and asked her a few questions.
Welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Anna, thank you for the welcome. I joined the Circle in April 2019 as the part-time project manager of the Living Wage project. I have a background in labour rights having worked at Christian Aid for over 10 years as private Sector advisor and in that capacity as a director on the board of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) for 2.5 years. During that time I helped lead the work on improving conditions for workers in supply chains in South Africa in the fruit sector, working with high street supermarkets such as Sainsburys Waitrose and Co-op. Before that I worked on a DFID project focused on developing supermarket codes of conduct sensitive to the conditions of women workers and before that again I worked on a PhD looking at the conditions of women workers in ‘maquiladoras’ (or sweatshops) in the Dominican Republic. I also work in a team of consultants evaluating UN projects.
What have you been working on since starting at The Circle?
Since April, we have been busy working on the next stage of the Living Wage
project and building on the very strong report which The Circle produced in 2017 with the aim of producing a second report later in the year. The first report clearly establishes the living wage as a fundamental right, making the argument that production can move to other countries where wages are cheaper. In order to counter this, the second report will provide the basis of a new legal directive that will oblige garments/fashion companies to pay a living wage throughout the supply chain in all jurisdictions. New research was commissioned by the Lawyer`s Circle Steering group in April and May and this was developed into a proposal (which will form the basis of the report). In June we held a Roundtable with invited guests, the majority of whom were lawyers from academia and companies, at Matrix Chambers to discuss this and to help us think through the next stages of a legal framework on living wages and and what support we need to develop to enable this to happen.
What can we expect from the Living Wage project over the coming months?
We have a lot planned for the next few months. We are currently writing the second living wage report, due to be completed in September. In October I will attend the PLWF conference (a Dutch based initiative representing the investor sector in Holland) which encourages and monitors investee companies to address the non-payment of living wage in their global supply chains. We have worked with PLWF before to support their work and plan to strengthen this partnership. In November Jessica Simor and Livia Firth, members of the Steering group of the Living wage project will speak at the Trust conference London 2019, a global human rights forum in which they will `soft launch` the report. Towards the end of the year we are planning a Living Wage Symposium which will bring together all those working on the Living wage as well as those working on the wider issue of mandatory human rights due diligence as it relates to companies. The focus of the symposium will be to discuss the legal framework for a living wage as proposed in the report and the different work and initiatives related to this. The symposium will be ‘solutions orientated’ in focus.
What have you found most surprising about the conditions of women working
in the factory industry?
Probably most surprising and depressing s the fact that conditions remain so poor for so many women working in supply chains after so long. Initially, 20 years ago, there was a lot of hope that company codes of conduct would improve conditions but time has shown that this is just not the case. If anything the lack of a legal imperative to change has meant that for many companies, corporate social responsibility, CSR, is a rue and its `business as usual` despite promoting commitments to change.
Are you hopeful about the future of the industry?
I am cautiously hopeful (as is my nature!) about the future of the industry. I see the growing phenomena of `fast fashion` and its dependence upon cheap labour as alarming especially examples where clothes are produced here in the UK for a few pounds. However, at the same time I see a growing trend in the UK and other European countries to call companies to account for their human rights and to push for a legal solution to ensure that they take responsibility for workers`s rights. In that context I think the Circle`s legal work on the living wage is critical- while there are those working on mandatory `human rights due diligence` as it relates to companies and their supply chains, only the Circle is working on that as it relates to Living wage.
What can we do, as consumers, to support women across the globe working in the garment industry?
As consumers the most important thing is be thoughtful and questioning as to the conditions in which clothes are made. Ask questions of brands as to the conditions under which garments are produced. What is their policy on labour standards and in particular on the Living Wage? Do they have full disclosure of their supply chains and are they transparent about this? How do they investigate allegations of abuse? Ask these questions of all brands. I think its very hard to know currently which brands are `good` and which are `bad` especially since there is still no way to ensure that clothing has been produced in an ethical way with living wages paid to workers. By asking questions and demanding answers of brands we can help push them further along that road and when there is a campaign for binding legislation.
Finally, what does ‘Women Empowering Women’ mean to you?
I love the idea of women empowering women and it was that which first attracted me to The Circle. I have always been very proud to call myself a feminist and one with a lovely husband and two lovely boys so there isn’t anything remotely anti-male about the idea to me, despite it being threatening to some men. However, yes, the focus is on women making changes happen for themselves and for other women in a non hierarchical way and in a way where there is no competition or threat just the desire to improve the conditions of all women, which benefits everyone, men and women.
To support our Living Wage work click here. Sharon McClenaghan will be hosting The Circle Connects: Living Wage on 24 September for our members to find out more about the project – register here.
With only a week to go before Christmas you might be wondering where to buy last minute gifts. Well, now might be the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box…
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what they are buying. Who made it? How was it was made, and where? These questions are becoming more common amongst those who are seeking to understand the chaos of climate change and forced labour; crises exacerbated by the fast fashion industry and social media which are creating a demand for transparency in companies. So, whilst we can become overwhelmed by the magnitude of these issues, there are small steps, even as individuals we can take to tackle them this Christmas.
Christmas is an expensive time of year. We spend our money on gifts for friends and family, but we don’t always need these gifts. Lucy Siegle for the Guardian (2018) referred to a recent survey by Method, an eco-cleaning company; ‘nearly a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds said they would only be pictured in an item one to three times on social media before discarding it.’ Millions of garments are burned or end up in landfill which is having a dangerous effect on our environment. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, ‘one garbage truck of textiles [is] wasted every second’. Rather than buying gifts because it is Christmas, instead we could consider how we can spend more creatively.
Rather than engaging in the consumer culture we can re-direct it towards good causes; turning away from a fast fashion buy towards a pure gift of compassion for someone who truly needs it. What if that blanket you bought your niece went to a refugee instead? Choose Love is the first store to sell practical items for refugees. When you buy any one of the items in the store such as meal ingredients or a warm blanket, a similar item goes directly to someone in need of it rather than you taking it home. When it opened in 2017 “the shop became a beacon of compassion in the heart of central London”.
During this Christmas period refugees will be battling life-threatening conditions. How amazing to tell a family member or friend that their gift is helping to make a refugee’s winter a little bit easier. From Choose Love you can purchase an insulated babygrow to help parents keep their newborn babies warm, a ‘support for women’ pack, or even buy medical equipment.
Every piece is beautifully crafted, handmade by women in Tunisia who have survived unimaginable violence. Through wearing one of these pieces you are providing the opportunity to open conversations about violence against women, as well as ethical and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. SeeMe enables women to learn the craft of jewellery making. But not only this, they use ancient Tunisian techniques, cultivating their country’s traditions. Furthermore, the women also get emotional support and SeeMe funds their children’s education. Please see an interview by Trusted Clothes with the founder of SeeMe, Caterina Occhio to find out more about the incredible affect this brand is having on women’s lives in Tunisia.
The jewellery is heart shaped which represents the #heartmovement. The heart is at the core of the collection, signifying a desperate need to restore love where a dark and heart-breaking experience has replaced it.
Fashion is often thought of as a form of expression, an art form. We can use it to express our concern about global issues. Just opening up one conversation about a necklace can spark more and more conversations which can lead to physical change.
Gift a Membership
The Circle membership is also a fantastic to gift anyone who believes in equal rights for women, our values – empowerment, passion, innovation, and respect and equality – and wants to be actively involved in the global women’s movement. Women are members from all walks of life – lawyers, teachers, students, hairdressers, journalists and many other paths. Through using their own skills and experience they help The Circle to raise awareness about important issues and raise funds to continue amplifying the voices of disempowered women worldwide.
This Christmas is an opportunity to consider how we can direct our spending towards tackling global crises and do something practical to help.
Let’s do something a little differently this Christmas and Choose Love for refugees, survivors of violence as well as the millions of other women who are in dire need of our love and support. Join the global fight for equality and give a glimmer of hope to someone who needs it.
This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is a volunteer 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.
#WidenYourCircle: with The Circle member Julie Ngov
The Circle member Julie Ngov shares her story of choosing her own sustainable fashion brand over a career in law, why she is a member of The Circle and the importance of the living wage in the fashion industry.
Hi, Julie. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and why you decided to leave your career in law to start an ethical luxury brand?
I grew up in Adelaide, Australia. My family are ethnically Chinese and my parents grew up in Cambodia. Traditionally my family were small business owners and my grandfather ran a fabric mill in Cambodia alongside other businesses. My parents moved to Australia in the early 80s as refugees. I was drawn to being a lawyer because I loved reading, reasoning and politics. In 2010 I had the opportunity to move to London to start a career in the City.
The long hours and pressure in the City took their toll. I discovered that I was no longer seeing friends, was gradually losing touch with my family and myself. I eventually burned out after 5 years in the City. The stressful, fast pace of life in London often means that the environment is an afterthought. In particular, the dominating presence of fast fashion brands and cheap, disposable clothing was a real eye opener.
After suffering chronic neck and back pain from long hours working as a lawyer, I took up yoga and weight training to build strength and manage the pain. This led to a range of sportswear purchases, but none of the garments really fit me and no brand spoke about having any environmental or ethical standards. With Cambodia being a major hub for garment manufacturing, the exploitative nature of the industry and how it impacts women particularly are issues that are close to my heart. Adrenna is an effort to bring together my love for movement, a healthy body and mindset and respect for the environment and humanity.
Why did you decide to become a member of The Circle?
I joined The Circle because of its clear focus on women and the defined projects that it funds.
“Fashion’s main problem is the amount of clothes that we produce, which has the effect of devaluing not only the product, but the people who make them”
The Living Wage project is important to me because of my Cambodian heritage, so it speaks to me directly on a personal level as well as a professional level.
It’s also important because it brings to light the continuous need to improve the working conditions within the fashion industry. It brings together the human and labour rights elements that I care about as a lawyer and founder of a fashion brand. We should not just be fighting for a minimum wage that simply allows people to survive, but a living wage. Fashion is a visibly exploitative industry and over 80% of workers in the industry are female, so this also becomes a gender issue. Fast fashion brands are selling leggings for £5, which must cover the cost of the materials, thread, shipping and labour costs. This means the sheer quantity they have to produce is huge in order to turn a profit, regardless of whether the consumer needs it or not, and putting pressure on workers to labour in long hours at repetitive work. The loser in the end is the environment and the worker. Adrenna’s production model addresses all of those aspects of the traditional fashion supply chain —we make in small quantities, to the highest quality, using facilities in London and Europe that we personally visit and inspect. Our UK-based workers are paid the UK living wage.
Can you tell us how the issues that you are passionate about have informed your choices as a business owner?
I really believe that environmental challenges will be the defining issue of our generation and they won’t discriminate by age, race, class or wealth. Any business owner operating today has a responsibility to ensure their practices are as sustainable as possible. No new fashion brand —or any other type of business— should be launched today without a sustainability mission. Unfortunately we don’t live in a sustainable, zero-waste world, but a consumer one, so change is going to be incremental and no one can ever profess to be perfect (yet). Fashion’s main problem is the amount of clothes that we produce, which has the effect of devaluing not only the product, but the people who make them. If we produce less it will be better for all. Adrenna is pioneering a made-to-order model to reduce the amount of production; however, it has not been easy as it requires a change of mindset for suppliers and manufacturers who are used to working in the normal way. In our coming collections, I’m working hard to continuously push our sustainability credentials through the introduction of new, innovative materials and processes.
As consumers of fashion, what can we do to reduce our environmental and social impact and what do you think our expectations of the fashion industry should be?
In the day and age of data driven commerce, consumer spending habits are meticulously watched and monitored. Consumers actually have a lot of power when it comes to influencing brands to build better businesses. Our expectations of the fashion industry should be as high as possible. If brands are asking us to part with our money for an aspirational ideal, we should also be aspirational in the way we engage with them.
Every time I am thinking of making that impulse buy, I go through this thinking process:
– Do I already have something similar?
– Do I need it or do I want it? Can I wait a few days before I decide whether to buy it?
– Is there a sustainable and ethical alternative? (Even if it costs a little more, it would be worth it if the quality is significantly better and it ensures that the creator is paid a living wage).
– Will I wear it more than 30 times and will I keep it for at least 5 seasons?
To find out more about The Circle membership and how you can become a member, please click here.
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.
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.
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.
Photo credit: Judit Prieto | The Circle members at March 4 Women, London.
Inspired by the Feminist Calendars written by our fantastic volunteers, we wanted to put some additional external events for April onto your agenda. Events are a great way to meet other members and learn more about some of the issues we are addressing in our projects. If you are planning to attend any of these listed below, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can connect you with other members who are also interested in attending.
Join The Elders, the Fight Inequality Alliance and the Atlantic Fellows for an event at LSE, London. The event is in honour of grassroot efforts around the world to address the inequality crisis and learn more about joining the #WalkTogether movement.
The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. It was set up in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu.
The Circle is committed to a guaranteeing a living wage for garment workers in the fast fashion supply chains. With Fashion Revolution Week taking place from 23-29 April, it’s the best time to brush up on your knowledge of The Circle’s Living Wage Project. Being informed about the fast fashion industry allows understanding of the greater context in which financial inequality for women and girls is perpetuated within fast fashion supply chains.
Here are some events being run by fellow members to help you be better informed:
Another incredible member of The Circle and Founder of Enchanted Rebels, Lianne Bell, will be hosting and co-hosting a series of live events on Facebook, including Dress Ethically. She will be joined by ONE SAVVY MOTHER for a live Facebook event that aims to bring you closer to the people who make your clothes. They’ll be sharing their own experiences and answering your questions!
The Circle member Lianne Bell will be having a good old chinwag with Ethical Fashion Blogger Tolly Dolly Posh about greenwashing. Lianne is based in Taiwan, but the chat will be taking place online at 15:30 UK time.
Written by Peta Barrett.
Peta is a member of The Circle since 2016 and The Circle Relationship Manager since 2017.
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.
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.
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.
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 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.
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 Circle has launched a donation page to help fund the next phase of this important work.
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 (email@example.com).
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.
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.