How to Promote Social Justice & Equality?
Hosted by Safia Minney, founder of REAL Sustainability and Fashion Declares, this webinar joined by a panel of expert speakers in this field:
- Baroness Lola Young, Independent Member of the House of Lords
- Olivia Windham Stewart, The Industry We Want, Business and Human Rights Specialist
- Mariusz Stochaj, Head of Product and Sustainability at Continental Clothing
- Amirul Haque Amin, President of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF)
- Emily Young, Ethical Trade Partner at ASOS
Safia began by contextualising the emergency. Despite the global COP conferences, GHG emissions continue to rise. Through the continued funding to fossil fuel industries, this creates the ‘undermining of social justice. We need to understand that the climate and ecological crisis will without question further impact the social crisis.’
‘The climate and ecological breakdown is unfairly being experienced by those in the global south, those who are working in our in our supply chains.’
‘How do we in the global north change not only our living but our buying habits, how we construct the terms of trade and the terms of business so that those who are working in our supply chains are able to transition. This will require climate finance and legislation and policy that is enforced.’
Baroness Lola Young, Independent Member of the House of Lords
Safia: Lola, what legislation is coming and how will it create a level playing field? Even with the best intended practice, until we force fashion companies to change, they won’t prioritise human rights and the environment.
Lola gave an overview of legislation. ‘It’s not very comprehensive, and it’s very complex because going across different nation states and different jurisdictions doesn’t make for ease of legislation.’
Lola suggested that in the last 15 years, there has been a coming together of different themes in this area.
‘You can’t have environmental justice without social justice. The coming together of labour rights with human rights, and environmental rights is a very positive thing. It’s late and it’s slow, but it’s coming. In some respects, one might say that some businesses are ahead of some governments.’
Lola continued ‘this week we have heard about the massive profits of BP, which makes us wonder why everyone is having to pay so much more for energy bills. Legislation can’t be strong enough or quick enough.’
Lola explained that the EU is introducing mandatory human rights and due diligence legislation. Any UK business that does work in the EU will have to conform to those regulations which is really important. This bill recognises that although some businesses have, most have not responded to the need for changes in labour, human, environmental rights, and they haven’t done it fast enough.
She also spoke on the importance of corporate accountability. ‘My view would be that often these things aren’t working in companies due to a failure of governance. We need specific individuals to be held responsible.’
Systems need to be in place so that companies will have to provide compensation and penalties.
The New York Fashion Act
Lola went on to discuss the New York Fashion Act, a bill about supply chain mapping. It would require fashion companies including manufacturers and retailers, to map, list, track, a minimum of 50% of their supply chain from farm to storefront.
Lola emphasises that there needs to be some consistency across jurisdictions and nations in order for businesses to comply with legislation. ’At some stage we will need to come together and make sure there is a level on which you can say to businesses this is the absolute minimum that you need to comply with.’
Another area within the New York Fashion Act is due diligence disclosure – ‘all subject companies would be obligated to produce an annual social and environmental sustainability report.’
‘If these pieces of legislation aren’t adequately implemented, if they’re not monitored, and if companies don’t receive penalties, then they’re not worth the paper on which they’re written. ‘
Modern Slavery Act
Lola also brought up the role of the Modern Slavery Act. ‘We’ve learned through the Modern Slavery Act that there are still thousands of businesses that haven’t even produced a statement around their supply chain issues.’
Lola closed in detailing that the recommendations have been accepted to toughen up and strengthen the Modern Slavery Act. This will include transparency and supply chain reporting, and will hopefully include penalties, after which it can be considered where the proceeds of those penalties will go to.
Olivia Windham Stewart, The Industry We Want, Business and Human Rights Specialist
Safia: In practical terms what can Fashion companies do to deliver human rights within supply chains?
Olivia introduced The Industry We Want (TIWW). Initiated by the Ethical Trading Initiative and Fear Wear, with the purpose of accelerating progress in social, commercial, and environmental issues in the garment and footwear sector.
The vision of TIWW is to look at all of the issues combined Olivia explained, ‘we’re not going to have social justice without environmental justice, and we really do believe that we need the commercial justice as a crucial element.’
Each of these issues has a focus area:
- Social: Wages
- Commercial: Purchasing Practices
- Environmental: GHG Emissions
‘There are a number of initiatives attempting to drive progress on each of these issues, but it is abundantly clear that change is not happening fast enough in any of these areas. And in the main, workers are still underpaid, commercial terms are still very poor, even exploitative, and environmental impacts are still extreme.’
‘The absence of data can limit our ability to drive the industry wide transformation that we drastically need if we’re going to make progress.’
With this in mind, TIWW has launched a dashboard with a baseline measurement.
- Wage Gap metric – workers in these countries are receiving just half of the money they need to reach a decent standard of living. ‘No progress is really being made at a systemic level on this issue.’
- Purchasing practices in the industry are rated at 39,
- GHG – estimated that the GHG emissions of the sector are at 1.025 Gton, roughly 2% of annual GHG emissions, estimated to grow to 1.588 Gton by 2030. This is far off the 45% reduction rate needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.
Olivia concluded that ‘progress on each of these metrics is imperative, if we are to realise our vision of a thriving industry with dignified employment and fair business practices and a positive impact on the planet.’
Amirul Haque Amin, President of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF)
Safia: Please introduce NGWF, and why trade unions are so important to deliver workers’ rights?
The NGWF represents 100,000 workers in Bangladesh. This is the largest trade union in this sector and started in 1984. NGWF fights for the legal rights of the garment workers, and ‘at the same time fighting for human rights and equality for the garment workers. Especially for the women workers, because in the garment industry they are facing double discrimination from this industry,’ because they are both garment workers and women.
In Bangladesh, Amirul explained, this is a festival time, the main holiday time in muslim counties. Many of the factory owners have left Bangladesh for luxury resorts to enjoy Eid with their families. In contrast, the workers in many of these factories could not even visit their rural villages to see their own families, because they did receive their monthly salary or any kind of bonus.
Trade unions are so important Amirul emphasised, in order to ‘accept the legal rights, the human rights, the equality, the social justice. There is no other alternative for a strong organisation.’
‘Everything must be legally binding.’ Amirul continued, ‘the implementation of the law is just as important as creating it. And for this we have to monitor how they are implemented. This is why a strong trade union is so important in the [global] south, because without it, legal rights will not be assured.’
‘I’m requesting all the partners in the [global] north, to support and cooperate with the trade unions in the [global] south’.
We need the pressure from the ground in the production counties, to ensure the laws are legally binding and have penalties attached to them, this is why trade unions are key.
Mariusz Stochaj, Head of Product and Sustainability at Continental Clothing
Maruisz presented Continental Clothing’s project on living wage ‘Fair Share’. This started just over five years ago. It came about through being members of the Fair Wear foundation since 2006. Continental Clothing had covered many of the labour standards, except one of the most difficult ones – payment of a living wage.
‘It’s difficult, because it goes very much against the historical paradigm of doing business, whereby you normally want to get the product at the lowest possible price. And paying a living wage equates to paying higher prices for the product’ Mariusz explained.
Continental clothing began this process by calculating the living wage benchmark:
This includes all the factors in providing a living wage, ‘it’s more than just putting food on the plate, it’s about decent living standards.’
After this initial calculation, they worked out that is costs about 10p extra on a basic t-shirt to raise the wages of the lowest skilled worker by 50%, which pretty much closed the gap between what they earn and living wage.
‘Adding 10p doesn’t seem like a lot, but of course as soon as the product leaves the factory gates and starts going through the value chains to the point of retail, that 10p can very quickly multiply.’ In today’s market it can render the object totally uncompetitive and defeat the object in the first place.
Therefore, Continental Clothing decided that rather than adding the 10p to the FOB price, ‘we decided to ring fence it and keep it as 10p, and pass it on without any markups so that it’s transparent and doesn’t bump up the price.’
Mariusz showed a Continental Clothing worker’s pay check, where they decided to pay the living wage premium. This is kept separately from their basic pay, for the sake of both transparency and accountability, in order to make sure that ‘the money we send to the factories goes directly to the workers in its entirety, and nobody takes a slice out of it, not the factory management, no agents in between.’
Through an audit by Fair Wear, they discovered that outcomes were rewarding. Productivity increased by 6%, and more temporary workers began asking for longterm contacts. It was also very encouraging to hear testimonies from the workers themselves, indicating that the extra money had allowed them to do exactly what Continental Clothing had hoped. ‘These were the elements that differentiated between basic and decent standards of living, school fees, medicine, paying off debt, savings.’
Emily Young, Ethical Trade Partner at ASOS
Emily Young of ASOS provided an overview of the work they have done in Mauritius, where ASOS have supported a migrant resource centre.
‘There is a need for stakeholder collaboration to drive systemic change and a more sustainable solution.’
The migrant resource centre is a ‘one stop shop for migrant workers’, a safe space for workers to gain resources and advice. It is an independent grievance mechanism, with ‘leverage and capacity to challenge local power imbalances,’ to involve local workers and stakeholders. This helps to address the power imbalance that typically exists between a migrant worker and their employer.
‘Worker voice and representation is at the heart of this.’ Emily continued, helping to make the process trusted by workers.
In order to support the centre, ASOS ask their suppliers and stakeholders to raise awareness about the centre, engaging with it and raising grievances directly with a factory. Emily also encouraged other fashion brands to collaborate in supporting the centre.
Living wage and purchasing practices at ASOS
‘Collaboration is key to paying a living wage, and we know we need a joint approach.’ Therefore, ASOS are members of the ACT living wage initiative. ‘We believe that having a union involved is key, so that workers have a voice.’
Within the ACT framework, ASOS have also conducted external and internal surveys on their purchasing practices. Some of the other steps ASOS are taking to comply with the ACT commitments include using a cost calculator for open costing, and training all commercial teams comprehensively on labour costs, what goes into the production process and how changes to an order can impact the overall purchasing cost. They also make sure to track minimum wages, and introducing a supplier performance card, to ensure they are given a more rounded view of their performance.
Safia rounded up the discussion. ‘The just transition will involve a strong collaborative approach, and strengthening the voices from the global south with trade unions and brand collaboration to put human rights front and centre. But we are going to need legislation and mandatory agreements, to give the Modern Slavery Act real teeth, together with penalties for fashion companies who are not conforming with basic human rights. Something akin to the Bribery Act where company directors would be accountable if laws are breached.’
‘We need mandatory regulations to put living wage, equality and human rights central to the fashion piece.’
Incase you missed it, please watch the recording below.