Thursday, 27 October 2016

Charity Begins At Home.

We Brits like to believe that we're charitable souls. Look at the sponsored events we give to so generously, or the way we're happy to dress up in silly costumes for a day to raise money for Comic Relief. But where do we stand amidst the rest of the world when it comes to generosity?

The new World Giving Index has just been released, and it makes for interesting reading. The Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) has gathered data from pollsters Gallup to open a window into the world of charitable giving. And the end result shows that Britain needs to up its game a little.

The metrics are based on three fundamental strands: donations, volunteering, and helping strangers. In one of those regards, we're doing well–seventh overall. But for acts of charity that require more than just popping a quid into a collection box, we're lagging behind countries like Turkmenistan and Myanmar.

Figures released by Gallup show that we're giving slightly less to charities, in fact, while figures for volunteering and what's called 'informal' volunteering (helping someone that isn't a relative without direct guidance from a charity) are stable or slightly up. Which is encouraging, but not a cause for major celebration.

As it turns out, our high standing in charitable donations makes the UK the most generous nation in Europe. However, we're part of a downward trend in charity action across the West. Meanwhile, Africa is the continent to watch, with a big rise in giving sparked by disaster relief. Nepal, Libya and Iraq all feature strongly in CAF's good books.

Should we be worried that we're becoming less likely to donate or volunteer? Not necessarily. Experts are careful to look at the figures as showing a stable rather than flatlining situation. We should hope that continues or improves. With a steep drop in UK government grants and subsidies, the sector is increasingly reliant on individual donations to be able to keep doing their good work.

The last word goes to CAF's director, John Low. He sums up why it's so important that we keep on giving :

“Unconditional gifts of time and money are a life-changing force for good in the world. As people become more prosperous and economies grow stronger, we have an opportunity to build an ever stronger culture of giving right across the world.”

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Listening To The Unheard Worker

I know sometimes I talk about ethics in fashion as if it's a simple and straightforward concept that everyone should understand. Let's face it: I've been doing this for so long now that it seems like an obvious thing to me. It's about the environment. It's about respect for the creatures and plants that provide our clothes. Above all, it's about the people who make our clothes.

It's always worth revisiting the ol' mission statement, just to be sure everyone's on the same page. As part of Fair Trade Month, Shamini Dhana of Dhana Inc. puts the whole notion under the microscope, and comes up with a pretty solid breakdown.

Shamini frames the whole situation in the context of a few simple questions. The first, and overarching one, is:

"Where is the connection and conversation today between the end customer and the people behind the scenes who make the products we consume daily?"

This has become an important question for those of us involved in ethical fashion. There are 60 million garment workers around the globe, 80 percent of them women. That's a fairly significant portion of humankind. And yet we know so little about them–how they are treated and paid. There's a fundamental disconnect in our heads between the people that make our clothes and the items themselves. However, this chasm is closing. People are starting to ask questions of the brands that populate our high streets. Those that choose to respond are tapping into a growing worldwide movement that wants to see the garment workers of the world treated with respect.

Involvement in this movement can be as simple as asking a few questions of your favourite brands. Who made my clothes? Do they receive a fair or living wage? How safe are their working conditions? If your brands can't answer those questions, then the immediate follow up is simply "Why can't you tell me?" A brand that's transparent about the people who make their clothes has nothing to hide about the way they are treated.

Brands like H&M and M&S regularly make a big fuss about their ethical treatment of workers, but it's all to easy to slip. As consumers, we have the right to know where our clothes are coming from, and how they are made. It's important to keep the high street on track for an ethical future. All it takes are a few little questions.

For more on Shamani's new incentive on listening to the unheard worker, check out this piece on Fair Trade America.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ethical Sportswear On The High Street? You'll be Lucky...

Was anyone surprised by the revelations about the way Sports Direct treats its staff? Well, no, but even so, the revelations of monitored toilet breaks, harassment and medical emergencies on the packing lines brought on by overwork were still shocking.

The news has left many of us wondering whether there are better, more ethical alternatives to the active-wear giant. Sadly, according to a report by Ethical Consumer, high street sports apparel retailers are not doing their best by the people that work for them, or the environment.

An assessment based on sustainability basics like supply chain transparency, worker rights and and environmental reporting led to a pretty poor showing. In fact, the highest they could score any well-known store was a measly 9 out of 20, shared equally between Intersport and Trespass.

None of the stores surveyed could offer a clear supply chain policy, with the knock-on effect that none could hold that supply chain to account. Worse, only one brand, Decathlon, could confirm that they don't use zero-hour contracts. Go Outdoors openly advertise them, despite the fact that Sports Direct were heavily criticised for their use.

Activewear chains seem genuinely clueless on environmental concerns as well, with no clear policy in place for lessening the use of toxic chemicals in their products or avoiding ranges that involve the use of animal cruelty (like merino for base layers, for example). Only Decathlon had any sort of plan for softening the environmental impact of their stores. Silence from every other brand.

Your best bet, Ethical Consumer concludes, is to stay off the high street altogether if you want to shop ethically for your sportswear. Brands like Yew and Páramo offer great alternatives to the big brands with a properly sustainable outlook.

It's sad to think that so many of our big stores seem to care so little about ethical concerns. Until they start paying attention, it's best for those of us in the know to take our business elsewhere.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Post-Charity Landscape

After a, let's say challenging, year for the Third Sector, there are some radical rethinks going on about the whole nature of charities in the 21st century. No-one doubts that they have a big role to play. The big question is how they position and sell themselves in the Britain of the future. Or even, how many of them there should be. 

At think-tank NPC's conference in London last week, head of the British Red Cross Mike Adamson had some tough words for anyone who believes that it can be business as usual for the Third Sector. He even questioned the use of the word 'charity':

"I think the word charity is very unhelpful, actually. I think we have a problem with terminology, because the problem is that when the Daily Mail attacks it uses the word charity, but the future is about values-led organisations, both small and large."

Take note of the phrase 'values-led organisations', because it'll start to pop up a lot over the next year or so. Mike's right, of course. People view the idea of 'a charity' dimly, while at the same time they're more than happy to fund-raise or volunteer for a cause. Just look at the success of JustGiving. The end result remains the same, but the terminology changes. Although to me, the term 'value-led organisation' is clunky in the extreme.

Mike also questions whether there is a need for so many charitable organisations in the current environment. He says:
"There are far too many of us charities, in my view, but we do need to create movements and make a difference through getting organised, and sometimes you do need organisations to do that."
He also urged the way to do this was to:
 "broaden alliances and collaboration to achieve as much impact as we possibly can".
Now, that's a tricky one. The obvious inference to take from that would be that the head of one of the country's biggest charities is looking to make a landgrab on causes that are smaller and less able to cope with bumps in revenue. Callous, or simply realistic?

David Robinson, of Community Links is even more blunt about how the charitable sector needs to reinvent itself.

"Is there a role for charities in the future? No, I don’t think so – not specifically.
"I think there is a role for values-led organisations, and I think we have to rethink how we divide up the sectors. I think our old ideas of statutory organisations, voluntary organisations and businesses are redundant. We need to think much more creatively about forms of organisation that are values-led."
See, there's that phrase again. It's hard not to see the wisdom in all of this, though. The business of raising cash for good causes is becoming ever more cut-throat and media-savvy. Understanding and responding to that is a task that will test any, ahem, values-led organisation over the next few years. The Victorian ideal of charity is changing with every passing year. Let's hope the sector can mutate and survive, for all our sakes.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Make A Sea Change With GROWN!

True insight into the damage we're doing to the environment comes from those that can see it up close and personal. The surfer community has long been at the forefront of the movement to do something about the man-made waste on our coastlines. Groups like Surfers Against Sewage have been proactive at keeping the poor state of some of our beaches in the news.

Now, a new bunch of surfy types are aiming to raise awareness with a fresh range of beautifully designed t-shirts. GROWN are three Irish guys with a passion for the waves, and a clear idea of how they can use ethical fashion to get their message of Sea Change across.

Stephen, Damien and Neill of GROWN started the business as a sideline, making t-shirts for their friends and family. As the designs became more popular, they realised they were onto a winner. But they were already aware of the problems around fashion, particularly in the way it can impact the environment. In fact, the logistical nightmare behind putting together a supply chain that satisfied their needs nearly scuppered the whole project. Co-founder and designer Stephen O'Reilly explains:
“We weren’t happy about the fashion industry that was around us; the throwaway lifestyle. We didn’t admire or approve of any of the brands that we were wearing and we wanted to change. We researched the company we wanted to be, a company that causes no unnecessary harm. We nearly pulled the plug on the project as we couldn’t find a way to create it without damaging the environment.”
Luckily, their extensive research paid off, and the GROWN boys have found a supplier that uses renewable energy and pays their workers fairly. For Stephen, though, anything less simply wouldn't do.
“...every brand should be doing this, it should be bog standard”.
GROWN's straightforward attitude, mixed with a clear passion for sending out the message makes them a refreshing new voice in sustainable fashion. Their debut campaign, Sea Change, is already making waves. Surf's up!

For more on the clothes and the mission, check out the GROWN website.

Friday, 14 October 2016

A Right Stitch-Up With Katie Jones

Sustainability is about making things last. You'd think that would be a no-brainer. Yet there are many voices out there that would like to persuade us sustainable fashion is still all about buying new things.

It's a nonsensical argument. Why would you throw a jacket out because the zip doesn't work, when you can easily get it replaced or repaired? My home town of Reading has seen two independent tailors set up within five minutes of each other. Both are doing a roaring trade. It seems like we do understand the notion of sustainability.

It's sad that we even have to outsource simple repair work, though. It isn't that long ago that most families had someone that knew how to use a needle and thread. These are essential life skills that seem to have been forgotten over the course of just a generation.

Fortunately, there are people willing and ready to teach us the error of our ways. In a video put together by the excellent folk at Fashion Revolution, knitting guru Katie Jones takes us through the easy ways we can repair or retask tired garments and bring them back out from the back of the wardrobe. It's an inspiring watch, and Katie's enthusiasm is clear.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Why See Now, Buy Now Is A Bad Idea

Fast fashion: it's so much a part of our 'buy cheaply and often' culture that we don't even stop to think about it. The whole notion of 'buy one, get one free' has encouraged us to spend on items we don't even need, satisfied that we've got a bargain.

This conspicuous consumption is a huge issue and it's not getting better anytime soon. If anything, innovation in prototyping and digital ordering is leading us further down the slope. The latest idea, launched at this season's fashion shows, is 'see now, buy now'. You don't have to wait for the newest designs to roll out to the shops. If you like what you see on the catwalks, you can order it and get it delivered there and then.

This, of course, puts enormous pressure on already maxed-out fashion factories, who are now expected to deliver just-in-time orders of new designs at an acceptable level of finish. What does this mean for the workers who are at the sharp end of the deal–who have to make the clothes in the first place?

The Fairtrade Foundation recently talked to garment worker and activist Nazma Akter, who has long fought for worker's rights in the harsh environment of Bangladeshi fashion factories. The whole interview is a must-read, but of particular interest are her views on the ever-increasing velocity of fast fashion. She says:

'Consumers have been encouraged, through a culture of “buy one get one free” deals to want ever-cheaper products and to want them now. But nothing in life comes for free. At the moment, women and workers are paying with their blood and sweat so consumers can enjoy cheap fashion. I don’t believe anyone really wants that. We all need to be able to eat well, have a decent life with access to education and healthcare. Let’s slow fashion down, and transform the industry to change people’s lives for the better.'

Sadly, many people simply can't see past the allure of instant gratification. Emma Watson, who has become something of a spokesperson for sustainability, recently launched a range of capsule clothing. That range was available on launch, and the publicity she gained from a big wave of press coverage ensured a quick sellout. This is exactly the problem that workers like Nazma have with western fashion, and it's certain Watson's suppliers would have been under intense pressure to deliver on time and budget. This is hardly a good example for a public figure who claims to care about worker's rights.

Our View: Nazma is a figure whose bravery and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds should be celebrated. She's absolutely right about how our greed for more stuff, right now, has cheapened and marginalised the people who work so hard to deliver the clothes we covet so badly, and need so little. Emma Watson, sadly, is sending the wrong message to her legions of fans. The last thing we need is another collection of celebrity-endorsed clothing that we can buy without thinking about it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Future Of Charities in Brexitland

We looked earlier in the year about the likely impact of Brexit on some of The View's key areas of interest. The general mood was bleak but the one main conclusion was: it's too early to say.

For the most part, that's still the case. The trigger-pull of Article 50 is unlikely to be invoked before next spring, which is when the real work starts. But for charities, a new report gives a clearer idea of the role they are to play in this uncertain new Britain.

The Charities Aid Foundation has spoken to politicians from all hues of the political spectrum and a broad swathe of the public to get a better idea of the general mood and how the Third Sector could fit into that. The report that's been generated from all that work, A Stronger Britain: How can Charities build post-Brexit Britain? is a fascinating and surprisingly hopeful read.

There are two main points to take from this new work. Firstly, that Brexit has sparked a new sense of activism and, as a byproduct, folks feel much more inclined to volunteer. In fact, studies show that nine million people are more likely to give up some time for a cause than before the June 23rd vote. They feel the need to channel their sense of anger and hopelessness into something more positive.

The sense of division in the nation at the moment is almost palpable. Families have turned against each other in the aftermath of the vote, and communities are split in twain. But charities, with their real connection to these communities, are in a unique position to help and begin healing the rifts. Again, the study shows that people view the Third Sector much more positively in this regard than in any other way of providing support to neighbourhoods in need.

John Low of the Charities Aid Foundation makes the point clearly:

"Charities are born of their communities and are often best placed to see community division first hand. And the public see a legitimate role for charities to speak up on behalf of those they support. This is why we are calling on local and central government to commission charities to monitor levels of community cohesion, and threat, and to use the proposed British bill of rights to protect the freedom of charities to speak on behalf of their beneficiaries."

In other words, there's a place for charities to become a central part of the mediation process, making sure that ordinary people are not left behind in the race to Brexit. The influence and expertise the Third Sector can bring should not be ignored or minimised. There is an enormously positive and important role for charities in post-Brexit Britain.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Bagged Out: How The Plastic Bag Charge Is Helping Everyone

Our oceans and countrysides are littered with the detritus of our takeaway age. Discarded drinks cans, old gum, cigarette stubs and of course, plastic. Recent research has shown that the man-created island of waste floating in the Pacific is even larger than we originally thought. It seems like we're the victims of our own thoughtlessness, and there's precious little we can do to stem the tide.

Except we can, and we are, and it's taken one simple step to start rolling things in the right direction. Namely, the 5p charge on plastic bags to consumers that launched in the UK earlier this year. Figures have recently been revealed on the first six months of the charge being put in place. The results are remarkable.

Issues of single-use plastic bags from the major supermarket chains dropped by 85% from March to September this year. That's over six billion bags less. Marine charities like Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society are reporting beaches that are substantially, if not entirely free from plastic waste. Andy Cummings, campaign director of SAS, told The Guardian:

“It’s a fantastic success. The vast majority have adapted their behaviour without a check in their stride. There will be a phenomenal net benefit for the environment from 6bn fewer bags.”

It's astonishing that one tiny charge has brought about such a rapid sea change (sorry) in our behaviour, and there are added benefits too. That 5p levy on bags has earned charities nearly £30million in donations from supermarkets over the past six months–a vital fresh source of income as people are giving less directly to good causes. There's also been a boom in the market for sturdy multi-use bags. Made out of materials like hemp and printed with ethically-produced dyes, these are eminently sustainable items that will last for dozens of shopping trips.

But why stop there? If such a simple step can have such a massive change, then it makes sense to carry on and levy micro-charges on other major causes of man-made waste, like one-use coffee cups. There's definite interest in a change. Starbucks already offer a discount if you bring in your own cup, and helpfully sell reusable mugs in store.

I'm old enough to remember when glass bottles had a deposit on them and could be returned to stores to get that money back. This is an idea that bears resurrecting–in fact, it's still a thing in dozens of European countries. The whole process could even be modernised with reverse vending machines that will take your glass and aluminium and pay you back for them.

The raging success of the plastic bag charge should be a kick-start for a modern, pragmatic approach to recycling that uses a simple psychological trick to get us to do the right thing. Sadly, the government environmental body DEFRA at the moment is not in such a keen mood, preferring to see if the figures are a start-up bump or will translate into further success. But for many of us who use the UKs beaches and rural areas regularly, the benefits are already becoming clearer. For once, we're seeing a win-win for the environment that also benefits people in need. That's a very unexpected item in the bagging area, right?

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Boy With The Girl With All The Gifts

One of the big horror events of the year is set to be the arrival in cinemas of The Girl With All The Gifts. Starring Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considene, the movie is a twisty, genre-expanding take on the zombie apocalypse. It features break-out roles for several young actors, including Sennia Nenua as the titular Girl.

A small but significant role is played by Walsall-born Joel Sheldon, as T-shirt Boy. An attendee of the Pauline Quirk Academy, he was chosen from a long-list of five hundred to play a zombie child whose actions cause a pivotal shift in the film's events.

Here's why we're talking about a zombie film in an ethical fashion and charity blog: when he was seven, Joel was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was supported through extensive chemo- and radiotherapy by the good folk at CLIC Sargent, the charity for young people with cancer. The procedures were successful, and he was able to chase his dream of movie stardom–a dream that has come one step closer with his role in The Girl With All The Gifts.

Joel is remarkably calm and collected about the whole thing, and has a clear view of his future. He says:

He said:

“I would love to be an actor when I grow up. I’ve just auditioned for a part in Game of Thrones, season six. I didn’t get the part, but I’ll be doing more auditions when I’m called up for them.”

Ironically, Joel will be unable to see the film in cinemas. It's 15-rated, so he's too young!

Stories like Joel's show just how important the work CLIC Sargent do can be, and how their support can help kids with cancer to not just survive, but beat the odds and follow their dreams.

For more on the story, check out the Walsall Express And Star:

The Girl With All The Gifts is in cinemas now.