To kick off the new year, we’ve assembled our January Action Guide: a handy list of all the things we’re keeping a close eye on, taking action on and (best of all) the good news we’re holding on to as we go into 2022.
‘This is the most egregious act of wage theft we’ve ever seen’
Garment workers making clothes for international brands in Karnataka, a major clothing production hub in India, say their children are going hungry as factories refuse to pay the legal minimum wage in what is claimed to be the biggest wage theft to ever hit the fashion industry. Read about it here.
More than 400,000 garment workers in Karnataka have not been paid the state’s legal minimum wage since April 2020, according to The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an international labour rights organisation that monitors working conditions in factories. The WRC estimates the total amount of unpaid wages so far to be more than £41m.Optimist’s Digest: Solidarity Actions
> This article acknowledges that, while social media campaigns and voluntary certifications are great steps, the most effective countermeasure is legally binding legislation. The Bangladesh Accord has had the biggest impact on improving garment workers rights (more on that later).
> It's not just a far away international problem, garment workers in the UK need our support too.
Environmental journalist Lucy Siegle says: “These are illegal working practices and you have a right to contact your MP and call for a transparent inquiry into working practices around fast fashion companies.” (Read the full article here)> Join Labour behind the Label, here.
> Support the Clean Clothes Campaign, here.
> Sign the #PayUp petition, here. BONUS: each time the petition is signed, executives from the brands who have not paid receive an email notification.
> Check up on the brands you buy from on re/make’s directory, here.
There’s more good news too:
Back in April 2021, the UK government announced it was considering the introduction of a clothing trade adjudicator, who would monitor large retailers’ relationships with their suppliers and to stamp out noncompliance with employment laws in the fashion industry. Read about it here.
The idea was put forward last month by the government's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) which is carrying out an inquiry into the impact of fast fashion.
The EAC has now confirmed that it has heard back from Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng who has confirmed the proposal is being explored. Read about it here.
The government was also discussing a potential licensing scheme for clothing manufacturers, and they’re “bringing forward” proposals for a single employment rights enforcement body. All of which could mean loopholes and grey areas are tidied up, making the industry more transparent.
While there hasn’t been news from the government on that since last Spring, there was a positive update in October 2021. Retailers called on the government to introduce legislation to make it a legal requirement for companies to carry out human rights and environmental checks on their global supply chains, and hold them legally accountable if they fail to prevent abuses. A review commissioned for the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) suggests that if such legislation was in place, Boohoo could have been found liable. Read about it here.
> Hopefully with government and business in agreement, this legislative gap will be closed. Legislation being introduced in this area is key, as it’d allow appropriate action to take place earlier, or provide a means of redress for those affected.
New Bangladesh Accord:
On the scale of international legislation, the New Bangladesh Accord came into effect Sept 2021. It replaced the previous Accord, implemented after the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, that expired August 2021.
Read up on it here, in the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) report.
What's the deal? A new accord (fancy way of saying ‘Official Agreement’) is being worked on to ensure garment worker safety and fair pay. In practice, it means 155 companies have signed up and are now legally obliged to only work with factories ensuring worker safety. The WRC statement makes it clear that all the vital elements of the old Bangladesh Accord are still in place in this new agreement.
Almost 80 companies including Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Asos, H&M, Zara’s owner Inditex and New Look have backed the Accord. According to the Guardian, the new agreement now in place covers general health and safety for workers, not just fire and building safety and human rights due diligence along supply chains.
You can check the full list of signatories for the new Bangladesh accord here.
The new Bangladesh Accord is widely considered a win for garment workers rights, and with talk of extending the Accord to other countries, it would be a huge step towards improving the ethical standards of the fashion industry.
Commenting in a tweet, Labour Behind the Label wrote: “After months of campaigning, brands and unions have agreed on a new International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. This is a huge win for workers. ALL brands must sign this new agreement in order to keep their workers safe.” Read more about Labour Behind the Label's call for all UK brands to sign the Accord here.
Early in December 2021, Business of Fashion Voices conference took place. It was a two-day summit seen as fashion’s equivalent to the Cop26 climate talks, and sustainability was at the forefront. Read about it here.
Dame Vivian Hunt told the audience sustainability could be style and substance, adding that “perfection is an elusive goal but progress is achievable”.
Dame Vivienne Westwood, blamed capitalism for some of the problems plaguing the planet.
“The whole world is in competition with itself to outsell itself, creating better and smarter weapons we are defending ourselves from our own aggression,” she said. “War is a major polluter and our major waste.”
Did you know: In 2019, a report released by Durham and Lancaster University found the US military to be “one of the largest climate polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more CO2e (carbon-dioxide equivalent) than most countries”
Dame Vivienne continued, “Temperature is rising. As we saw at Cop, without cooperation, nothing can be done,” referencing Cop26 in Glasgow and its failure to “keep the goal of 1.5C alive”, accelerate the decarbonisation of the global economy and to phase out coal.
While brands look to become more sustainable, they’re still fundamentally late to the game. Shoppers are already morally invested in sustainability and their thinking is outstripping the pace of established brands and their slow movement on reacting to the climate crisis.
> Rental services are seeing a surge in popularity. This could be good news, because it would means more fun outfits, and less new clothes! The exact style and substance with sustainability Dame Vivian Hunt spoke about. Read about it here and here.
But it’s important to remember that rental services aren’t a perfect solution to fashion’s climate problem. A 2021 study found that renting clothes had a higher climate impact than just throwing them away. The carbon footprint of transporting and organising rental services might be a more circular move, but the most sustainable way to consume fashion is to buy fewer, high quality items and wear them for as long as possible.
> High fashion brands are catching on: in October 2021 Jean Paul Gaultier launched a rental service of some of its most iconic designs. If we were cynical, we might call this a novelty move. But sites like Vestiaire & Depop are alerting high fashion brands to the value of resale and investing efforts into their older collections, ultimately recycling (albeit kinda by accident). If that’s up your street, it might be worth checking out Shwap, a circular fashion marketplace that we at Birdsong use for resale of our old collections.
UK annual spending on (more) ethical products surpasses £100bn for the first time. Report says climate crisis and Covid have fuelled demand for plant-based foods, secondhand goods and greener gadgets. Which is good news! Read about it here.
First, here’s the good news: A list of climate victories from 2021.
But just for balance, here’s the less positive news: A Year of Climate Crisis in review.
While 2021’s COP26 was characterised by a formal absence of calls for compensation and reparations, from fossil fuel companies and polluting countries in the Global North, the UK still holds the COP presidency. There’s plenty of time until COP27. There’s a window of potential for a ‘green reset’. Read about it here.
This might sound far out, but with businesses, unions and green campaigners urging the government to set up a net-zero initiative for government policy, positive steps could be plausible. Read about the calls for a net zero initiative here.
More Good News:
Some of the world’s rarest camellias have been discovered in Wentworth House, Yorkshire.
A law that bans plastic packaging on most fruit and vegetables came into effect in France on New Year’s Day.
Flanders Moss Bog in Scotland is breathing again. After decades of restoration, the holes in the peat at Flanders Moss have been patched up. Bogs have been treated like wastelands for much of human history. It is now recognised that peat bogs are among the greatest stores of carbon and, after decades of restoration, the holes in the peat at Flanders Moss have been patched up.
Led by Chester in north-west England, the world’s first sustainable palm oil city, restaurants, small businesses and arts venues are joining forces to eradicate deforestation-linked forms of the vegetable oil from their supply chains. a growing number of towns and cities are trying to use only sustainable palm oil, helping orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species.
Amendments added in November 2021 would see this already regressive bill become even more so. It would see the creation of a new criminal offence of obstructing major transport works, the expansion of stop and search powers and a new power for police to ban named people from demonstrations.
A Guardian opinion piece identifies that these amendments are intended as a threat to climate protest movements, saying: it’s “clearly intended to strangle off what ministers are worried could be a new line in disruptive climate protests, after two months of roadblocks organised by the direct-action group Insulate Britain – and a decision by the supreme court earlier this year reaffirming the right of protesters to cause disruption.”
> Sisters Uncut have been doing incredible work fighting the bill in direct terms, with their Kill the Bill campaign.