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.

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