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.

 


The Circle’s Annual Gathering 2019

Our member Rashmi Dubé, Lawyer, Writer and Global Feminist, has written a blog post about our Member’s Annual Gathering last weekend!

The meeting was held at St. James Crypt in London, with speaker’s video calling from Calgary, Beirut and Uganda. This is only my second event with The Circle and I am excited for the day. .

As a lawyer and business owner, I am used to walking into rooms where most people are strangers – a veteran networker – but this feels different. The room is full of women and the energy feels electric. The room seems to vibrate, reverberating with energy as if to almost form a musical note. This is something new and unfamiliar to me, but at the same time it feels welcoming and comfortable. I am immediately at ease and say hello to a few familiar faces. The women are excited, each talking about what they are doing in their circles and wanting to help change. Even with small actions great change can be done. I am already on a high before I sit down.

Sioned opens the programme with a message I take to heart and will carry everyday – “just do it,” no matter how insignificant you think your act is. This very sentiment is later echoed by Eve Ensler.

Annie Lennox takes the stage, joined by Eve Ensler, an American playwright, performer, feminist, and activist best known for her play The Vagina Monologues.

The two speakers delve into conversation, debating the word ‘feminist’ and its connotations. Both have the united goal: to give women and girls a place where they don’t have to be resilient – they can just be, fighting for all women and their rights, equality for women and girls in a fairer world.

Annie pointed out that there are “So many gaps….divides and divisions…” that we need to come together and work together. She acknowledged that it is still “so difficult to use the word feminist…” I could see her point. There is an uneasiness around the word, much like there is around vagina, but should there be? Annie pointed out that the “concept of feminism is [associated] with man hating [and] this is really a big problem. But I genuinely think if men are not brought into the conversation, how we can have a dialogue and change attitudes? …. We must do this. If we don’t we will be in

combat…” . She is right. The more we come together as one community, the better the discussion. From my perspective, we need to empower men to become feminists or, at the very least, allies. The way we use words and “terminology makes things visible”. Annie went to on to say that “feminism must be for everyone” and at the moment “many men feel defensive, they feel attacked [and] you need dialogue [to overcome these issues]”.

Eve Ensler was on a similar message and wants us all to be change-makers, even if only in our small community. She spoke openly about the traumas of her own life and that when we as women effect change. She reminds us that in order to bring about change and make a difference to others you don’t need an army. She refers to the Castro quote “I began the revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.” She continued to say all “you have to [do is] believe, have faith in what you are doing in your circle [and]…don’t minimise it [in your mind]”

She then took me back by saying: “resilience. I don’t like that word why do they [speaking about the women in Congo being used as a tool of war and for control] … have to be resilient” She was questioning how they got into the position of having to be resilient in those circumstances in first place. The very definition of resilience is “1. the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity. 2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.” My mind wondered back briefly to what Annie had said and the importance of terminology.

As the day closed, the take home for me was that I, one human being, can in my circle make a difference as a Global Feminist, have open dialogue with men and revisit the terminology we use with new eyes.

Get in touch with The Circle today to make your difference in a girl or women’s life.

This article was written by Rashmi Dube, who is the Managing Director of Legatus Law, lawyer, author and freelance writer for the Yorkshire Post. She is a Global feminist changing attitudes through the written word and legislation a ripple at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism


The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust: International Women’s Day Panel

 

This International Women’s Day, Annie Lennox took part in a panel of change-makers and activists including Adwoa Aboah, founder of Gurls Talk, an open community where young girls can talk about the issues that matter to them; Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London; Chrisann Jarrett, Founder of Let us Learn; and Angeline Murimirwa, Executive Director of the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) in Africa and co-founder of CAMA, a pan-African network of young female leaders. The purpose of the panel was to discuss some of the challenges that women and girls still face today, but also to explore some solutions to these issues.

 

“It was fantastic to take part in yesterday’s panel for the Queen’s Commonwealth trust. The discussion was invigorating and inspiring and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to present the case for everyone to start using and identifying with the term ‘Global Feminism’. The trust exists to champion, fund and connect young leaders around the world and is now presided over by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex together. Thrilled to hear the Duchess personally describe herself as a Global Feminist!”

– Anne Lennox

The panel discussed the issue of girl’s education, sharing the statistic that for every year more of education a girl receives, she will increase her lifetime earnings by 25%. The panel opened the floor to questions, the first of which was from Scarlett Curtis, author of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, who brought up the inequalities surrounding menstrual wellbeing.

Many of the members of the panel, considered how to involve boys and men in the conversation. Each expressed the sentiment that the progress of feminism cannot proceed without their support. Suggestions such as changing our understanding of masculinity, starting an open dialogue and ‘shining light on the invisible man’ were offered. Adwoa Aboah, described the work that Gurls Talk are doing to include men in their feminist space, stating that half of all Gurls Talk members are men.

Global Feminism

The conversation continued to come back to the term Global Feminism. It has been the mission of Annie Lennox and The Circle to get the term into the zeitgeist as an inclusive term to acknowledge the disparity between the right’s that we enjoy in comparison to women across the globe who are denied them. 1 in 3 women will experience sexual and physical violence in their lifetime, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence isn’t a crime.The panel was a crucial part of doing so.

‘It is about Global Feminism, it is about equality and parity for all of us’.

– HRH The Duchess of Sussex

We even managed to some of the panelists to share their #OneReasonWhyImAGlobalFeminist. Lets continue the success of International Women’s Day 2019 and keep getting the Global Feminism word out there!

 

This was a truly inspirational panel that we were very grateful to be a part of. We want to thank all the panelists for their endorsement of Global Feminism and hope that by International Women’s Day 2020, we will be one step closer to achieving a fairer world for all women and girls.

#GlobalFeminism #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Job Opportunity at The Circle

Project Manager

One of the priorities for us at The Circle is to ensure that the millions of women working in the garment industry receive a living wage.

 We began this work by publishing, in May 2017, a report that sets out the argument that a living wage is a fundamental right.  We’ve also created a strategy to guide our work in this area that has the following three key objectives –

1)      Continue a gear shift in the debate on the living wage that will engage key stakeholders with tangible alternatives to the status quo.

2)      Formulate and test a new legal directive that will oblige garments/fashion companies to pay a living wage in the countries they source from.

3)      Create a race to the top in which companies compete to demonstrate best practice in complying with the law 

We’re now looking for a Project Manager to work with our Living Wage steering group that includes Livia Firth. Jessica Simor QC, Antonella Centra and our Executive Director Sioned Jones to implement and co-ordinate this strategy

The post holder will co-ordinate and build our relationships with a broader group of allies and partners and liaise with them to ensure we remain cohesive and empathetic to each others work in regards to a living wage.

The post is initially a consultancy contract for 1 to 2 days a week over a 3-6 month period (the days and timelines are flexible to suit the individual and to meet our budget).  There is a desire to seek longer term funding and the post-holder will also assist, with Sioned, in seeking out and securing this funding.  Should we be successful we would wish the project manager role to continue beyond this pilot phase. 

We’re ideally looking for some with experience of working in this area or at the very least enormous passion and knowledge about ending the issues facing women working in the fast fashion industry.  Experience of policy making and long term advocacy would be useful in the role alongside managing a similar type of project.  The person must be self motivated as it will be a home based role with some travel to London working within a small team.  Organised with good communications skills the post holder must be confident working with a range of individuals including those at a very senior and influential level.  From our work to date we know this post holder will need to be tenacious and have the commitment and ability to keep things on course and take new opportunities when they may arise with short notice.

To find out more email hello@thecircle.ngo or to apply send your CV and covering letter to the same email address giving an indication of your availability and daily rate.  Applications will be considered as they are submitted and we will appoint as soon as a suitable candidate is found.