6. How to promote Social Justice and equality

Fashion supply chains are typically long and very complex. Most fashion brands do not own their manufacturing facilities. Some brands may work with hundreds of factories at any given time. These include the facilities that cut, sew and assemble garments, but there are also further facilities down the chain that produce fibre and materials, process, weave, mould, dye and finish materials. These factories and farms may operate in different countries.
speakers faces on zoom webinar
Fashion Declares held an expert webinar with industry leaders on this topic – How to promote Social Justice & Equality?

Hear from: Baroness Lola Young, Olivia Windham StewartMariusz Stochaj, Amirul Haque Amin, Emily YoungSafia Minney (Host)


How does a company provide positive social impact?

The fashion industry must treat all workers fairly and with dignity. There needs to be workers’ rights, a living wage, freedom of association, gender and racial equality and an absence of abusive power. Companies must adhere to existing best-practice frameworks to protect workers within the supply chain, such as – but not limited to –Fair Wear, World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and the Modern Slavery Act (Modern Slavery Act 2015 (legislation.gov.uk)). There is a need for new, binding, enforceable and auditable agreements and legislation wherever necessary.

There needs to be direct and long-term partnerships with suppliers to invest in the supply chain, social impact, gender equality, community and climate resilience. Suppliers are partners in the transformation of our industry and must be active participants in decision-making. We advocate for low-carbon and regeneratively-farmed fibres and starting to incorporate low carbon products eg; hand production and craft-based livelihoods at fair wages, towards a regenerative Just Transition. The brand TOAST aims to have 10% of the products in their collection from craft sources. Check out WFTO, Common Objective and NEST and connect buyers to artisan and craft producers that are often social enterprises.

Hand crafted textiles and fashion accessories, through a fair trade system provide decent livelihoods in rural areas and can support social enterprises and cooperative model of business.  In this way, buyers have an opportunity to build close, long-term partnerships, small runs of products and offer their customers something truly unique.

There is an urgent need for legislation and regulation to improve standards in the industry and level the playing field so ethical brands can compete with laggards.

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) base code is founded on the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and is an internationally recognised code of labour practice. The nine items within the code are shown below.

Together with the ETI, FairWear has also set up The Industry We Want as a collaborative initiative that seeks to provide a regular check-up of the garment and footwear industry by monitoring progress on issues such as living wage, gender equality and freedom of association. It brings a range of groups together to scale better buying practice, ethical business practice and more effective commercial solutions.

The WFTO’s 10 principles are a helpful guide to better trading and buying practices. It includes the principles such as equal pay for equal work by women and men, freedom of association and abiding by ILO conventions.

To encourage companies to take action to ensure human rights and reduce environmental impacts in their supply chains, the European Union (EU) announced mandatory legislation on due diligence in March 2021. This legislation in intended to ensure respect for human rights and the environment throughout the entire supply chain. On 10 March 2021, the European Parliament approved an outline proposal for the EU Directive on Mandatory Human Rights, Environmental and Good Governance Due Diligence. The CBI expects the European Parliament to approve this new legislation in 2022. After this, the EU member states will be given time to include it in their national legislation. This means that the new law will likely be in place from 2023.

There is an urgent need for legislation and regulation to improve standards in the industry.

ETI code
Since the Rana Plaza tragedy and increased focus on factory safety, transparency and sustainability fashion companies have started to map out their supply chains, sub-contracting and excessive overtime resulting in worker exploitation, repression and severe health and safety issues, but compliance and reporting needs to become mandatory.

Automation hasn’t been adopted widely in the sector yet, partly because it would cost more to automate the process, but the threat of job losses must not be used to undermine workers rights further. Workers need to be trained to adapt to the threats to their livelihoods. Industry and governments must step up to support workers and reskill and support new sectors that will provide them with decent livlihoods.

Transparency is critical to monitoring and improving supply chain impacts along with other issues. Fashion Revolution’s transparency Index (Fashion Transparency Index 2021 by Fashion Revolution – Issuu) is a very useful tool. TrusTrace (trustrace.com) offers a state-of-the-art digital platform for product traceability and supply chain transparency.

Who’s taking action

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) was founded in 2007 as an Asian labour-led global labour and social alliance across garment producing countries (such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and consumer regions. Their focus is on a living wage, freedom of association and gender-based violence.

The organisation Fair Wear is facilitating the inclusion of workers’ voices into the conversation around sustainability. It was set up over 20 years ago with a focus on helping workers in the manufacturing process supply chain realise their right to freedom of association, benefit from gender equality and earn a living wage.

The brand Continental Clothing has been a market leader in progressive, sustainable manufacturing since 1998 and has been awarded leader status by the Fair Wear Foundation for its labour standards. It has found that adding just 10 pence per t-shirt at the factory gate in India pays for a living wage of all the workers.

Chloe started three years ago the first partnership with UNICEF “Girls Forward” dedicated to girls access to education and promoting female entrepreneurship. It seeks to have a positive social impact through the production and by working with social enterprises to impact women’s lives positively and has partnered with WFTO. Its Sustainability Strategy has 4 pillars: people, fair and equal opportunities, sourcing, positive impact and communities and impact on the planet.

Why fashion needs to act now

Brands say that it is tough to manage their social and environmental impacts, but just as they manage the details of design, production and delivery, they are stepping up to look at these with the same eye for detail,  from carbon emissions, ecological damage, water use, pollution and worker exploitation and it’s causes.

Fashion has both a systemic race problem and gender bias in that people of colour and women are exploited throughout the industry and underrepresented on boards. We need more pioneering, black creatives like Virgil Abloh who sadly passed away in November 2021 aged 41.

Garment workers working on sewing machines
Black Lives Matter protesters holding fists up at a protest.

Fashion has both a systemic race problem and gender bias.

There needs to be a just transition which embraces the diverse voices, viewpoints, and lived experiences (including indigenous knowledge) of workers in production countries. Social dialogue is a key driver of this transition. Just transition represents a fair and inclusive process that prioritises the social needs of workers, communities, consumers and citizens impacted by the transition to a real net zero economy. It includes measures to reduce the impact of job losses and reskilling and investment into green sectors.

Anannya Bhattacharjee, Intl Coordinator for Asia Floor Wage Alliance says:

We need to redistribute the power of consumption so that we restore balance and the whole world consumes in a sustainable way. That’s why in just transition, you need higher wages. You raise everybody’s ability to buy the things they need. Democratizing purchasing power or consumption power automatically leads to a higher standard of human rights and cost of living across the globe, reducing the growing inequalities that we read about. The workers themselves should be able to consume what they’re producing.”

In terms of the livelihood of farmers in poor farmers, one significant issue is that the US alone provides three billion dollars of subsidies to US cotton farmers each year bringing down the global market price of cotton by 25 percent.

Suggested reading & webinars

‘Slave to Fashion’ by Safia Minney

‘To Die For’ by Lucy Siegle

‘Foot Work’ by Tansy Hoskins

‘Unraveled’ by Maxine Bedat

‘Fashionopolis’ by Dana Thomas,

Sustainable Supply Chains Webinar

Suggested viewing

The True Cost movie