Thursday 31 March 2016

A Note From Our Sponsor

The View is, as you'll note if you look to your right, sponsored by Pier32, the first and best ethical clothes customisation company in the UK. It's thanks to the unstinting support of Guru Ian and Gerry The Voice that we are able to operate and bring you the best in independent ethical fashion and charity news.

It's with a little sadness, then, that I pass on this note from Gerry Hayter, who started Pier32 back in 1994 as an ethical rebrand of his highly successful t-shirt printing business, Headline.

Take it away, Gerry...

No, this is not an early April Fools Day joke.
Pier32 (then called Headline) set sail 32 years ago and what a journey it's been. I've walked a 'Long and Winding Road', but it's time for me to take a step back. I'm having a career break and leaving Pier32's future heading and adventures to be plotted by Ian, our Marketing Director (and my son-in-law–we've always been a family business).
Ethical and environmentally produced custom printed and embroidered merchandise has always been forefront in my mind, as has customer service. I know Ian will continue my mission, and make sure Pier32 continues to do right by our customers and the planet. Don't think that you've seen the last of me. I'll help out with a 'Watch' from time to time and of course I'll still be keeping an occasional 'Lookout'.
Thank you to all my loyal customers and also my friends and ship-mates in the industry. It's been a pleasure working with you all.
What's next for me? Well, Dixie my wife and I are setting sail for the Caribbean for a while. Time for a grog of Rum and some well-earned R&R!
Excited? Very, and a little sad, of course. See you all in port someday.

Closing on a personal note from me. Gerry has always been an enthusiastic reader of the blog, and has been nothing but supportive of my efforts here at The Pier from day one. I know for a fact that we haven't heard the last of Gerry The Voice.

We salute you, cap'n.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Further From Fur

Fur has always been a difficult subject for the fashion world. It's an easy target, in some ways an easier one to get headlines over than if you're talking about sweatshop conditions or workplace abuse. We all like to think we're animal lovers. And yet the casual, thoughtless cruelty that goes through the fur trade like a spine has been remarkably difficult to eradicate.

Like it or not, there's still an association with luxury when it comes to fur. Although we're gradually shifting away from it, thanks in part by the tireless efforts of campaigning groups like PETA, fur still plays a role, particularly in Autumn/Winter collections. Everyone likes the Snow Queen look.

Hold on, though, I hear you ask. Surely most of the fur we see on clothes these days is fake. Well, therein lies a worrying story. You see, good fake fur costs money to produce. Sometimes it's cheaper and easier just to let standards slip a little.

There's been a distinct uptake in "faux-faux fur" from China, where cat, dog and raccoon skin has been sold to Western markets as fake, and used in clothes that are labelled as such. It's a clear violation of import and trade acts, with big fines in place for offenders. And yet the real-fakes continue to flood in. The Humane Society of America have recommended a few spot checks the consumer can do, from checking the base layer (if it's a synthetic mesh, it'll be supporting artificial fur) to setting light to a few strands. I can't see that playing well in Primark.

It's all about demand, of course. As long as people like the look, fur will continue to make an appearance on the catwalks and shop-racks. There's nothing really we can do about that. But there are hopeful signs coming from some of the biggest names in fashion.

Last week the Armani Group joined Hugo Boss in declaring that all its clothes would be fur-free in time for the Autumn/Winter colllections this year. In a statement, Georgio Armani himself said:

 “Technical progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposal that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals. Pursuing the positive process undertaken long ago, my company is now taking a major step ahead, reflecting our attention to the critical issues of protecting and caring for the environment and animals.”
With big names like Armani and Boss on board, there will be a significant uptick in the production of quality faux-fur–which should hopefully lead to a drop in price, rendering the cheap "real-fake" Chinese imports a less attractive prospect for unscrupulous clothing manufacturers. Let's hope this winter will be a little less cruel.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

How We Shop Now

The Easter weekend is almost upon us, which can only mean one thing. No, you fool, not that silliness with the eggs. I'm talking about the UK's favourite leisure pursuit–shopping. And with four days of freedom ahead of us (well, Sunday discounted; a day of rest is not such a bad idea) there's guaranteed to be a trip to the shops in store for most of us.

Our shopping habits have changed radically over the last thirty years. The online revolution has given us the ability to do the weekly food shop, or indeed to snag anything our little hearts desire, on the sofa in our jimjams with a nice cup of tea to hand. Environmentally the approach is a bit questionable, to say the least. More deliveries mean more cars and vans to get to your door, which means more toxic emissions and greenhouse gases. Then there's the whole uptick in consumption as a whole–buying more doesn't necessarily mean buying wisely.

That being said, how do retailers cope with the change in shopping habits? A survey conducted by Westfield, one of the biggest mall developers in the country, brings up some fascinating insights into the way we shop now and how we'd like to shop in the future.

One of the biggest potential upsets to the market is rental. What is the point of buying that perfect little black dress for a party when you're only going to wear it once? What if the next time you go to put it on it's...erm, shrunk? With high-end expensive apparel, it makes much more sense to rent rather than buy. One in five consumers would be interested in a subscription to their favourite store that allows them to grab anything they like from the racks, as long as they return it in a usable condition. Think of it as Spotify for John Lewis. The logistics are a bit of a head-mangler–presumably a pick-up and delivery service would be part of the deal. But it makes sense in a lot of ways. You'd have your measurements to hand in the store to make sure you always had the right garment with the right fit. It's the service that all good tailors used to offer. Why shouldn't it make a comeback in our connected age?

The notion of connecting with brands is one that the British public is, apparantly willing to embrace. We already love our loyalty cards. But we would be prepared to snag points for all sorts of out-of-shop experiences. Westfield customers have expressed an interest in getting rewards for exercise, recycling and even charity volunteering. It seems that to become a better citizen, all you have to do is offer money off vouchers.

The shopping centre is already looked upon by many as a place to hang out or spend leisure time. Restaurants and cinemas make up part of the whole retail experience in many big city malls. Remarkably, Westfield customers would be happy to spend even more time there in the pursuit of personal fulfilment. One in three who took the survey expressed an interest in taking classes in the shopping centre, in everything from languages to cookery. Who knows, perhaps they could hook those achievements into their loyalty cards. Take music lessons and get money off a digital keyboard. The possibilities are endless.

Our View: there's an element of gamification about all this, of course. A lot of the suggestions here are about getting rewards for things we should be doing anyway. But then, if a little retail encouragement gets us learning and exercising, who's to say that's a bad thing? A personal side note: I wear an Up band that tracks my exercise and sleep patterns. That's hooked into an app that sees my progress and translates them into points I can use for money off my next coffee or cinema trip. I can sneer all I like, but the simple truth is that I'm already engaged and using some of these ideas.

The future of shopping, it seems, is already here.


For more, check out the results of the Westfield survey here:

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Disarray and Disability

It's important to keep a sense of objectivity when writing a blog on ethical issues. But it's sometimes difficult not to pull out the revolutionary banner and start swinging. Recent developments around the spring Budget have put a red rag over my eyes–and I know I'm not alone. Events have shown a government in its true colours–one happy to trip up the neediest in society in order to push through its own agenda.

The trouble, at least as far as the Tory government is concerned, is that for once there has been pretty significant pushback. Plans to chop disability benefit by thirty quid a week was instantly met with heavy and sustained bombardment from the press, charities and the Opposition side of the House of Commons. Sixty different disability charities signed a furious petition, and then took more direct action. Three Tory MPs, including London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, were asked to leave their posts as patrons of charities that would be directly affected by the cuts. Meanwhile, the MPs that voted for the cuts were named and shamed on social media, in meme-style posts that pulled no punches in pointing out the mind-mangling hypocrisy at work.

It was a bruising assault, that led to an almost immediate climb down from the government. Claims were made on BBC Question Time that the cuts were only a suggestion. But the fun was only just starting.

Last week's Budget included 'improvements' to disability payments yet again, under the guise of recalculation to the way they were allocated. These stricter guidelines would mean that someone with disabilities who under the old system qualified for assistance with Motability or carer help could no longer claim. A cruel system was about to get even harsher. That, in conjunction with tax cuts for higher-rate tax earners, was the final straw for many.

Including the Works And Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who dramatically quit his post over the weekend, claiming he could no longer support the government's targeting of the most vulnerable. An interesting position to take, given the brutal and often bullying policies over which he presided over his six years in charge of the benefits system.

Whatever you think of IDS and his sudden conversion to sainthood, the disarray of the Tory side of the House has been the greatest show in town for a good few days now. The new Works and Pension Secretary, Stephen Crabb, has now said the changes to disability payments will no longer happen, leaving a whopping multi-billion-quid hole in the Budget. George Osborne, the Chancellor was not in the House to answer his critics yesterday, leaving his second-in-command to take the flack. He's due in today to explain how he's balancing the books, which should make for very interesting viewing.


Our View: The charity sector has come in for a lot of flack over the last twelve months, not least for its poor money management, lack of accountability and opaque operating practices. All of which seem like lessons they have taken from this government. We should note that Saint Iain's martyrdom came after a week in which the injunctions he'd slapped on opening papers related to the abysmal performance of his department failed in the courts. For the third time.

No-one takes his claim to have suddenly grown a conscience seriously, once you take the most cursory glance at his voting record. Very few people will miss him, but he's just the most obvious symptom of a much more endemic problem. The lesion as indicator of terminal cancer, if you will. The best way to deal with disease and disability, of course, is through careful observation to make sure the most appropriate treatment is given. It will be very interesting to see what Cameron's cabinet do next, now they understand the uncomfortable truth.

That we're watching every move they make.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Fix Up Look Sharp

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about CLIC Sargent's writing fundraiser Get In Character, which gave you the chance to become a part of your favourite author's next book. That campaign has ended for this year, but the charity has plenty of other smart ideas to earn much needed funds.

Take Fix Up Look Sharp. CLIC Sergent's own fashion range, it does things in a very different way. Staff and volunteers at the CLIC Sargent shop on Bristol’s trendy Gloucester Road came up with the idea in 2012. The talented team began stitching stylish, unique garments from donated fabrics and turned them into one-of-a-kind garments. The look, as the name implies, is sharp and modern. Playful too, as bright and often chintzy fabrics are reshaped with edgy tailoring. This is not your standard charity shop fare, and for once you don't need to be sharp with a needle and thread to make the most out of what's on offer.

The team at Fix Up Look Sharp are currently working hard on a Spring/Summer collection which will be launched next month. It's exciting times, but let's not forget the main purpose of the range. Every penny raised by Fix Up Look Sharp goes towards helping young people with cancer. People like FULS model Charlotte, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged just seventeen. She tells her story on her own YouTube channel, and is the star of Fix Up Look Sharp's latest video. Check it out!

Our View: this is a great example of a charity giving its own staff and volunteers the chance to think creatively and make a difference to the people it was set up to help. With a clear identity, look and purpose, Fix Up Look Sharp mix fashion and charity with a big handful of sass and style. I'm doubly pleased, though, because the whole subject gives me the chance to play THIS.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Community Clothing: Kickstarting British Textiles

We like to think that, given the upsurge in demand for clothing from the fast fashion boom, that our factories are full to bursting. Sadly, that's simply not the case, especially in the UK. Many of them suffer from deeply seasonal trade, and lulls in orders can lead to layoffs. Or worse, closure. There has to be a way to plug the gap.

A Kickstarter that will reach its funding target today should help, with an idea that could easily be utilised across the sector. Community Clothing views that spare factory capacity as an opportunity–to create authentically styled and carefully made British classics at a highly affordable price.

The idea is that of a new kind of co-operative. Like-minded workers uniting across the design studio and factory floor, coming together to help create something wonderful.

How do you keep quality high and costs low? The answer is simple...or rather, simplicity. Community Clothing will make a small set of items–jeans, Harrington jackets and raincoats. No huge inventory requiring complex procedures. The clothes are stripped back, clean, pure design classics that have the advantage of being simple to assemble. The materials are sourced from a very local area, in most cases no more from 25 miles from the factory in Blackburn, Lancashire.

This stripped back approach means that Community Clothing can use the same premium materials as high-end brands, and offer them at half the cost. The jeans are made from 12oz selvege denim, the jackets from high-quality cotton twill. Buttons are horn, not plastic. These garments are built to look good and last.

But the mission has a higher aim then simply to create great clothes. We're looking at nothing less than the rejuvenation of the British textile tradition. This quote from the Kickstarter says it all:

"By using local suppliers of fabrics, buttons, labels, and as many other products and service as we can we will create even more jobs within the communities where we make our clothes. And with our profits we will invest in programmes in those same communities where the factories are located, supporting skills training, personal development programmes and apprenticeships, programmes that help people into skilled jobs in the textile and garment industry."

Our View: Community Clothing are mixing smart thinking with real heart, taking spare capacity and creating something that brings benefits to everyone involved. If you get a wiggle on (i.e. today) you can still snap up a bargain bundle of sharp, British-designed and made classics. This is a model that deserves to be copied and grown across the country. When the community benefits, we all benefit.

Find out more at Community Clothing's Kickstarter page:


Monday 14 March 2016

A Lidl Exploitation: The Hidden Costs Behind A Pair Of Cheap Jeans

A good, deep dive down the rabbit hole was taken by Gethin Chamberlain of The Guardian last week, as he did the maths behind the latest fast fashion faux-pas: the £5.99 jeans sold by Lidl. So what is the German retail giant's secret?

Well, those of us in the know won't need much time to figure out how that price point was reached. It's down to cheap labour, of course. The worrying thing is, you have to wonder how many of Lidl's customers realise how little the people who make those clothes are really paid.

The figures are shocking. The jeans are made in Bangladesh, using female workers that are paid the minimum legal wage of 5300 takas a month. That's a fifth of the amount estimated to be a living wage by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance back in 2013. 5300 takas is about £48. So, based on the standard 8-hour day, 6-day week, LIdl's workers bring in a princely 23p an hour. Or, to use another metric, a worker is paid somewhere between 2p and 9p per garment stitched.

Of course, things get a little trickier when we realise that these figures are, to an extent, based on best guesses and informed estimates. As ever, the opacity of supply chain reporting works in the big brand's favour. They can claim that their workers are treated fairly, and that they audit very facility. But they hardly ever publish the results. Without the ability for independent observers to verify those claims, it's sorta tough to call them liars–although you do wonder why those figures aren't being published.

Regardless, it's hard not to agree with Gethin's conclusion: Lidl's bargaining power in the marketplace and choice of manufacturing base are the prime drivers of the absurdly low price point on their jeans. No-one brings work to the clothes factories of Dhaka because they're exemplars of ethical practice. There's an old saying when it comes to service and manufacturing–there's fast, cheap and good: pick any two. Seems pretty clear which way Lidl went in this case.

For the full breakdown, check out the article:

Friday 11 March 2016

Taking On The Streets With The Big Issue

The streets of the city are always busy on a Friday night. But tonight they're going to be busier than ever. March 11th is the annual Big Issue Big Night Walk, and hundreds of people are going to be pounding the pavement to raise money and awareness for rough sleepers.

The walk is based on a distressing fact. For many forced to spend their nights on the street, it's actually very difficult to get your head down. You're either moved on by the police or private security, or you simply can't find a place that feels safe. For many rough sleepers, then, the night is spent wandering around in a half-asleep haze. You wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Tonight, teams and individuals will spend an evening in their shoes. Starting at midnight till five in the morning, volunteers will be walking a course that leads them around some of London's iconic sights. They'll also have the opportunity to meet with ex-homeless people who will be sharing their stories.

It's not too late to drop in a little bit of sponsorship to a volunteer team, and honestly every penny makes a difference–in surprising ways. £10, for example, can help a vendor get a birth certificate–a vital bit of ID that will make hostels accessible and gives them the opportunity to open a bank account and claim the support (including a pension) they are entitled to. Fifty quid will get them kitchen tools that are essential when moving into accommodation. Tiny amounts which can change lives.

The number of people that need help is on the rise. Last year the Big Issue Foundation helped 2000 people out of the hopeless spiral of homelessness, getting them the chance for a business and a renewal of hope. Almost a thousand of those were in London, one of the most prosperous cities in the world. This has to change.

This quote from Sam says it all:

“The day I started selling the magazine was the first day of the rest of my life. I now had a reason to get up in the morning. They helped me to find accommodation, helped refer me to agencies to sort out the other parts of my life and just a year ago they offered me a job. If I had stayed on the streets I’m sure I would have been dead by now.”


I'd like to highlight one volunteer team– Anna, Des and Emily. They're taking the late shift, working as Backwalkers. That means they're not just walking the equivalent of a half-marathon tonight, but they're bringing up the rear of the pack to make sure everyone is safe and healthy, and supporting 280 volunteers to complete the walk. That has to be worth a tenner of sponsorship, right? Here at the Pier, we're setting an example and putting our money where our mouth is. Good luck, ladies! Best foot forward!


Thursday 10 March 2016

WRAP: Are We Sending More Clothes Than Ever To Landfill?

A new report from sustainability certifiers WRAP bears worrying news for those of us who hope that we're starting to do better when it comes to taking control of our wardrobes.

The report warns that there has been a hard drop in demand for used clothes in the UK. While clothing consumption as a whole is rising, 2015 saw a decline in the figures for textiles being either re-used or recycled. The likely end result? An increase in clothes going to landfill.

What's causing this cooling off in the market? Well, as ever there's no one answer. But an important part of the puzzle is the export market. We send most of our used textiles for reuse overseas, and demand, as well as prices, have been dropping since 2013. As we buy nearly £1.1 million tons of clothing in the UK every year, that's a lot of potential garments heading for the tip.

The problem is that it's hard to put a proper annual figure on the amount of clothing we have to hand. Typically, a garment will last for over three years, and may be swapped between friends or family members, or sold privately online. WRAP themselves admit that current methodology doesn't really do the job, and their own metrics are based primarily on import figures from HMRC (sad to say, but the vast majority of our clothes come from overseas). There could, then be an awful lot of clothing invisibly in the system that could be going to waste over the next few years.

With prices for our used textiles dropping, there's less incentive for businesses and charities to collect in the first place. The boom in the export market that began in 2010 has flatlined, again increasing the likelihood that potential renewables could just go straight in the bin. Recycling on an industrial scale is still in its infancy. The complex job of disassembling modern clothing, which is very often a mix of different fabrics and finishes, doesn't make things any easier. But an increase in this sort of recycling is really the only way to head off a potentially catastrophic spike in the amount of textiles we send to landfill every year.

Generally, a step change is needed in the way we view our clothes. There needs to be a big increase in re-use in both domestic and foreign markets, and a push to development of new techniques, including a wider take up of notions like closed-loop recycling.

The WRAP report concludes with the admission that there are tough challenges ahead for the sector. Our View: clothes recycling is a lot trickier than it sounds, and depending primarily on export markets to keep our unwanted garments out of landfill was always going to be a sticking plaster on a very big wound. It remains to be seen whether new technologies and forward thinking can dig us out of a hole before we bury ourselves in old clothing.


You can read the full report at this link.


Monday 7 March 2016

On Human Capital

An organisation is only as good as the people within it. Seems like a pretty straightforward idea, right? People gripe about bad customer service at the drop of a hat, and TripAdivisor is full of praise for the places where staff go that extra mile to make sure you're happy.

But the notion that a healthy business entity is in some part defined by the quality of its staff is a comparatively new idea, only really coming along in the 1950s. It's called human capital, and it's part of the reason that ethical business practice puts so much stock in a healthy, happy workforce.

Wikipedia says:

"Human capital is the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value."

Although the notion of a workforce being part of the essential resources of a business dates back to the eighteenth-century writings of Adam Smith, the term only really became acknowledged by economist Arthur Lewis in 1954. The phrase moved into common usage ten years later when Theodore Decker published his book Human Capital.

Initially, human capital was viewed in the same way as machinery or premises–a fungible asset, although not one that could be easily bought or sold (in fact, according to Marx, it's impossible for a worker to sell his or her skills–they can only lease them out). You can invest in human capital, through things like training and medical aid, and your output depends to an extent on your people working smoothly. In other words, your workforce is simply another means of production. Why do you think it's called Human Resources these days?

The trouble with that broad definition is pretty simple–you can't treat people like machines. Notice the word that jumps out at you in the Wikipedia definition above. Creativity. That's not something that can be easily quantified, or even modelled. You simply can't build creativity to order. Human creativity and other so-called "intangibles" like leadership and talent make the whole theory increasingly tough to pin down. Many economic and social theorists see huge holes and gaps in the idea of human capital, and the field has become wildly complex as new ideas emerge to fill in the gaps.

The one thing that is not up for argument is that the human component of any business is the most important part, and that it is a foolish manager that does not try to keep it in balance. But of course, none of this is isolated to the workplace. Healthy and well-educated people in society at large make for a better workforce. Look at India, where improvements in health and welfare have seen an explosion in human capital. That expansion has led to exploitation, of course, but also to a workforce less tolerant of poor treatment, with the skillset and technological nous to seek out better employment.

The notion of ethical employment is deeply tied into theories of human capital and is a subject that's constantly in flux. I realise this is a very shallow dive into a very deep subject. One thing's certain. It's vital for the big brands that I so often criticise on this blog to understand that the human component of their organisation is essential for continued growth and profitability. And that applies to everyone from the CEO to the humblest machinist.

Thursday 3 March 2016

Sedex: Simple Sustainability

Once upon a time, things were simple. You made or produced something: wool, milk, maybe a jumper. Then you took it to market and you sold it. For your customer, the supply chain was clear, transparent and easy to understand. Nowadays, unless you shop exclusively at farmer's markets, that simplicity has vanished. These days products have their raw materials sourced in one country, the assembly in another, the finishing in a third, before being shipped around the world. Keeping track of all the processes and people involved is like juggling an egg, a three-legged stool and an angry cat.

Is it even possible to assure sustainability and ethical standards in such a complex system? When even high street chains that make a big deal about their sustainable standards trip up, it's easy to see how hard it is.

If a company is serious about an ethical supply chain, they need to talk to Sedex. This not-for profit membership organisation has ultimately, one goal: the creation of a set of standards and frameworks to help a company set up and maintain a social and environmentally responsible profile. It sounds complex, and that's because it is. But now is the time for a new rigour in sustainability reporting.

The head of Sedex, Jonathan Ivelaw-Chapman spoke recently to Pioneers Post, and laid out the need for organisations like Sedex. He said:

"The last few years have seen turbulent times for businesses and their supply chains – from the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, to the horsemeat scandal in Europe, to human trafficking in Thai fishing industry and worker deaths associated with construction projects for the Qatar World Cup.

All these events make it clear that greater transparency in global supply chains is urgently needed, and I’ve certainly seen this being acknowledged more and more within the wider business community since I joined Sedex. For any company which is part of a global supply chain, the risks of not knowing your lines of supply can be enormous, so it’s a positive development that we are seeing more and more examples of how companies are being proactive."

These kinds of scandal are terrible for a company's reputation, which has knock-on effects on its bottom line. It's not surprising that a simple appeal to a company's finances can make even the the most hard-nosed CEO think again about ethical standards. No-one wants to be seen as a monster boss condoning slavery in their factories. Well, not unless they can get away with it...

The major point is in understanding how human values can be tied into increased profitability. In simple terms, a happy workforce is a more productive workforce. A company that does not have to spend time dodging fines and bad press can concentrate on their core business. Technology can make the whole process much simpler and less bewildering.

Simplicity is a key topic in the 2016 Sedex Conference, which enters its final day today. In fact, the whole gathering is entitled "Simplifying Supply Chain Sustainability". The aim is to give brands, suppliers and organisations the tools they need to make significant and lasting change that will benefit their workers, the planet and their bottom line.

Sounds pretty simple to me...

For more on the 2016 Sedex Conference, go to

To read more about Sedex's mission, the Pioneers Post article quoted from above is a great start. Go to


Wednesday 2 March 2016

Action Aid: Change Lives. For Good.

For half of the world's population, it can be a tough life. Tough to find a job that pays fairly. Tough to get an education. Tough to be treated with any kind of respect or dignity. It's an awful truth that if you're a girl or woman, particularly in the developing world, your life is made more difficult based simply on your gender.

If you're a girl in a developing nation, you are much more likely to be expected to look after your family through childcare, early employment or arranged marriage than go to school. If you do work, without the education you were denied you don’t have the skills you need to earn a proper income. You'll be paid less than men for doing the same amount of hours, have no provision to worker's rights and face harassment. In some cultures, you're not allowed to work or own land or property so you'll have to depend on male family members for survival.

Meanwhile, you're much more likely to face physical or sexual violence, either at home, at work or even on the streets. Some cultures see nothing wrong in this, and wrong-doers go unpunished. Forced marriage and the awful prospect of female genital mutilation (FGM) mean that for many women and girls there is literally no safe place to go.

In a world where climate-driven disasters and conflict are becoming ever more common, women are hit hardest. It's tougher to get shelter, food and clothing for you and your children if you're a woman, and menstruation and pregnancy make it easier to pick up disease and infection in areas without sanitation or access to clean water. It's also been proven that in the periods after a cyclone or flood has hit, or in conflict zones, sexual violence against women increases.

All sounds pretty bleak, right? I'd love to say there's some magic button we can press to make all this horror go away. But we can, at least, support the organisations that try to help women worldwide. One of the biggest are our friends at Action Aid, who have been working for the last forty years to try to make a difference across the board.

They work with communities across the globe to help get girls into safe and secure school spaces, and more importantly keep them there. They campaign for women in the workplace, pushing for equal rights and pay and helping to get training in the skills they need to make a better life for themselves. They also offer support for women to get access to land and to farm it sustainably.

Action Aid campaign to curtail sexual violence against women in all its forms. They seek justice for victims of abuse, and fight for an end to FGM and forced marriage. Work continues at the community level to end domestic violence and child abduction.

Action Aid have been most visible recently in disaster and conflict zones, helping women to get the resources they need to survive in the most difficult of circumstances. Sometimes it can be as simple as ensuring access to sanitary towels. But Action Aid have also found that putting women, who often understand the needs of their community best, at the front line of local disaster relief efforts speeds the recovery of these often rural and isolated areas. Women community leaders actively enhance the rebuilding effort.

There is, unfortunately, no instant panacea for the way women are treated. You can't erase prejudices and cultural stereotypes that go back for centuries and are propped up by religion and societal norms. But you can push against them, as Action Aid do, and eventually that does start to make a difference. You can't just marginalise one half the planet's population. Here at the Pier, we're proud to support Action Aid, and the way they're helping to change lives. For Good.

For more detail's on Action Aid's work, visit their website:


Tuesday 1 March 2016

Get Into Character with CLIC Sargent

It's a common saying that we all have a book in us. And we are a nation of readers, voraciously gobbling up everything from the latest Lee Child thriller to the historical fiction of Hilary Mantel. It's true to say we love a good story.

But have you ever fancied being a character in your favourite author's next book? Well, thanks to CLIC Sargent, the cancer charity for young people, your wish might just come true. Their Get Into Character auction is running now, and if you're a bookworm there are some cracking prizes to bid for. Big names like Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train, have promised that winning bidders will appear in their next novel as a character.

Now, they're not promising that you'll be the star of the piece, but how cool would it be to have your name in a novel? If thrillers aren't your thing, romantic writers such as Julie Cohen are also offering you the chance to appear in print, without all that tedious mucking about of actually writing a book.

There are plenty of other prizes on offer as well, from signed first editions to writing critiques from the likes of Claire Dyer (should you have gone to the bother of trying to get that book in you out into the open). Bibliophiles, there's really no excuse not to lay a bid down. You might just find yourself part of an awfully big adventure...

The CLIC Sargent Get Into Character charity auction is on now and runs until Mothering Sunday, March 6th. Hey, that could make a cool pressie for the bookworm mum in your life!

For more details and to get your bid on, check out the website: