Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Livia Addresses The Elephant In The Room At Copenhagen

The recent Copenhagen Fashion Summit featured a keynote speech from Livia Firth that didn't pull any punches. She excoriated the fast fashion model, calling it "the elephant in the room" at any conference that wanted to talk about sustainable fashion. She called for a root-and-branch rethink of the industry, but warned
"...nothing will ever change while fast fashion and its current business model stays as it is."
Livia was deeply scornful of the big brands that dominate the fashion industry. It's through them that the fast fashion model has been allowed to thrive, after all. Handwringing over climate change and high-profile 'awareness' campaigns do nothing to effect meaningful reforms. In fact, Livia argues, the big names are perfectly happy with the fat profits that the current model rakes in. Worse, the lack of transparency in their supply chains disguises some unpleasant truths. Livia says:
"...they would like us to believe that all is well in the supply chain, especially with the garment workers. That is sadly not the case."
Her real anger comes from the lack of change in the industry post-Rana Plaza. For many, that event was the first clear evidence of an industry who would happily put workers lives at risk in the name of profit. For the big brands, it was simply an excuse to roll down the shutters and set up shop somewhere else...
"across the world to Cambodia, to Myanmar and to Ethiopia, exporting the same model without systemic change. That was not the agreement. That was not the intention. And that must not be the sum-total of our ambition."
Livia also turned her sights on the responsibilities of those companies, following the signing of the Bangladeshi Accord on Fire Safety. The agreement, it is becoming clear, is has not been kept by some.
"Nearly three years ago, some of the biggest brands in the world committed to improving working conditions by signing the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Three years on, and despite growing profits and market share, some of those brands have still not made their strategic supply factories safe.
"The sad fact is, this industry remains more comfortable picking low hanging fruit – by focusing on token 'green' initiatives – than on dealing with human exploitation in the supply chain."
Livia ended her address with a challenge and a promise. She announced a new initiative in partnership with The Lawyer's Circle that would lead to a road map for change. It's a challenge that impacts all of us, from producers to consumers.
"We will soon publish a study. A study that will set out the legal case for a living wage as a fundamental human right. A study that will explore the legal options for setting a global standard for a living wage.
For those in this industry – so many of you here – who are willing to be courageous I hope this study will give you the architecture for the change we dream of.
And for all of us – in civil society – it’s time for us to be active citizens and – active consumers. We can’t continue to demand change until we challenge the pace of thoughtless consumption which the fast fashion brands have dictated to us."
Our View: Livia is one of the most powerful voices in ethical fashion, and she has the funds and spirit to take the fight to the big players. Her speech at Copenhagen is exciting stuff, and issues a challenge that we could all take on. We can't forget the lessons of Rana Plaza. Here's a chance to show that those 1300 people did not die pointlessly.

Livia's full speech is available on the EcoAge website, and I've embedded the video below. Take ten minutes and get inspired.

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