By Kevin Boon


REAL joined this Terra {Fora} event with Extinction Rebellion (XR) on 22 June. Bel Jacobs of XR facilitated a discussion with the following panel members:

Clare Farrell – co-founder of XR

Harriet Lamb – CEO Ashden

Safia Minney – founder of People Tree and REAL Sustainability

Kalkidan Legesse – founder of Sancho’s (sustainable fashion retailer)

Expression of global justice issues through fashion supply chain

Clare observed that the fashion industry is completely linked to the petroleum industry and is a good reflection of all aspects of the issues we face. The Western fashion system has its roots in colonialism and the globalised capitalist system. However, there does exist an opportunity for change in the fashion space. We are starting to see willingness in the industry to change but the power of the supply chain model is overwhelming.

Harriet commented that most people have no idea of the negative impacts associated with fashion. Its carbon budget is predicted to increase to 25 percent of global emissions by 2050. Fast fashion has resulted in increased consumption with an associated decrease in the wages of farmers and production workers. She talked of the need to address social injustices to deal with climate issues.

Safia said whilst she’s excited to see a large scale corporate movement towards organic and “regenerative” agriculture there needs to be acknowledgement of its roots and origins in traditional farming practice of indigenous farmers and the global South and investment in farmers the stewards of truly sustainable agriculture and climate resilience.

Kalkidan noted that it’s easy for people in the West to disassociate themselves from garment workers and that, as a society, we don’t give value to supply chain workers. Another major issue is the level at which garments are discarded either in landfill or being left unused in wardrobes. There is a need to re-imagine waste and who is responsible. Kalkidan argued that those who produce goods should be responsible.

New business models

Kalkidan argued that the current system is focused on maximising returns for shareholders and does not respect garment workers. There is also a lack of legislation. Kalkidan’s new initiative, Shwap, aims to boost the so-called secondary market. It seeks to incentivise brands to be part of the solution and design longer lasting clothes as we ultimately move to degrowth.

Safia talked about how we need to massively cut production and consumption of fashion by two thirds with the goal of increasing the ethical sector from around 3-5 percent to 50 percent or more being ethical by 2035 with forthcoming legislation, public and shareholder pressure to choke off exploitative and irresponsible businesses. The craft and artisanal sectors need to be revived. Safia pointed out that every major retailer is now looking at re-commerce but that there needs to be outreach to change consumer behaviour as the lead is unlikely to come from government.

Harriet argued that deregulation has been the cause of many problems with supply chains but that markets were much less free for developing countries. Harriet talked about the double standards in trade shown by wealthy countries under the guise of free trade. The removal of regulatory boundaries has driven down prices and increased consumption. There is a need to look again at regulation such that social and environmental issues are central to trade. Fair prices must be paid for goods. Key to this is getting the support of trade unions.

Clare referred to the state of environmental collapse which is already happening in some places where there is dead soil and water shortage. The just transition conversation suggests that we have time to respond to the environmental crises but for some we don’t have time. Our supply chains are not resilient; degrowth would help make the situation more resilient.

Kalkidan argued that economic growth has only served a very small number of people globally. Power is in the hands of business and although change is taking place we need to get this beyond the periphery.


From left to right: Bel Jacobs, Clare Farrell, Harriet Lamb, Safia Minney and Kalkidan Legesse 


The fashion industry we need

Harriet suggested that the COP26 climate summit needs to have climate solidarity at the centre and agree deals which are more ambitious. Legislation such as the CEE Bill is needed to require companies to address the issues in supply chains. It is also important to engage with the public as legislation alone will not solve the problems we face. Ashden is seeking to get all schools zero carbon by 2030 including initiatives such as uniform swaps. They are also pushing to get a greater emphasis on climate change in the school curriculum.

Clare talked about the need for the public to take action and the importance of protest. She asked us to consider how we’d dress in the face of an emergency. In this situation fashion would stop as would advertising. People need to be questioning the need for material possessions. Clare stressed the need for cross border conversations and conversations across cultures.

Safia talked about how social justice and supply chain emissions are central to transforming to real zero carbon. In the past we haven’t been thinking systemically. Safia also talked about the importance of the CEE Bill which now has the support of 110 MPs.

Kalkidan called on the public to buy garments that pay garment workers well and buying directly from global South producers where possible. Fashion companies need to change their operations where they are exploiting land or people. She encouraged brands to support the Shwap initiative. 

Safia talked about the importance of people and nature having primacy as well as profit. There needs to be a level playing field so that the polluter pays. Safia believes that the fashion industry must declare a climate, ecological and social emergency.

Harriet talked about the need for fair prices to be paid to farmers and production workers. Companies need to be given a mandate to take action and support given to pioneering brands. There needs to be legislation and a rebalancing of power.

Clare argued that no one is beyond redemption even the trade unions. She closed with a plea for powerful people to get out of the way and let change happen.