Sustainable Fashion: do not make a fashion of sustainability

Sustainability is being shaped as a fashion not as a holistic and long-term approach; having “green issues” as their main “flag” of marketing, making of them only a cool habit or trendy purchasing, particularly for the garment and food industry. There is a strong lack of real awareness of the degree of urgency that the planet is going through. The fact that specific green practices must being inserted in our daily life also means to incorporate a wider a more complex sustainability strategies as part of our culture and not just another trend. It supposes a substantial difference: the own concept of green habits and the insertion into a global sustainability strategy.

How do we get to this ambitious goal for a new fashion industry? Sustainable Development Goals are the answer. A responsible consumption and production –SDG12-, Industry, Innovation and infrastructure –SDG 9-, Peace, Justice and strong institutions –SDG16- and partnerships -SDG 17-.There are not parts of an abstract legal framework but a common effort on all layers of the society and actors to make it possible.

Advocacy is key on the achievement of the SDG´s by an holistic approach that address weaknesses and inconsistencies of the fashion industry. First and above all, the role of the consumers, not just as “purchasing machines” but also as advocate leaders demanding more transparency about the origin and process of each supply chain. Then, innovation of the sector for: reducing, recycling and minimising the impact on the environment as well as the strict fulfilment of labor rights of their workers. Even if host countries do not deliver guarantees it doesn’t mean that foreign investors are not responsible of their wrong-doing. Safety and fair wages are also part of their contract with the local country. Finally, partnerships, is not sustainable to rely on the private sector as a main leader of a change but to call all actors on stage, including consumers and governments to make sure that transparency, accountability and a fair relationship with those less fortunate countries are achieved.

All of the above represents simply, the challenge of making efforts at individual, public and private level, changing codes of business and purchasing attitudes. Consumers get used to buy without information about ethical standards within the supply chain. Also the industry get used not to be called into responsibility for the origin of their products made abroad- particularly for those in vulnerable countries- as well as labor conditions of their workers. This is not why globalisation was made for,this is not why we need a global free market, and this is not the way to move forward towards sustainability. An opportunist interpretation of globalisation is what leads to a complete failure on making of a global system a tool for building sustainability.

This lack of interest and joint action suppose violations of legal compliances. In the worst cases violation of human rights: including slavery, labor rights or harmful practices to the environment. Consumers must take the lead and take responsibility by not buying products that its production process represents a threat fort he environment or /and involved flagrant attack to minimum standards of labor and human rights. The impact of your purchases would become key to change current stage of chaos of an industry that has become no transparent because of its compartmentalized structure within countries that doesn’t offer guarantees. Definitely consumers only get in contact with the process on the final stage without being aware that the process fully comply with ethical standards. Which literally means no labor abuses conditions, no slavery, no kids, no negative impact on the environment.

Globalisation has contributed badly on this particular aspect of control and supervision of minimum standards of fulfillment of human rights from the very beginning of the process. Therefore, this complicated supply chain gets benefits in markets of low and high income at the same time, which equally means reducing costs and guarantees.

The ILO estimates that from 260 million children, 170 million (11% of the global population children) are engaged in child labor, most of them in textile and garments factory to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe and US.*

Would you buy a dress made by a child or under slavery conditions?How can we be fully aware of all stages and be certain that it is an ethical business that fulfill all labor requirements? Unfortunately the answer is: we do not have certainty of the “clean” origin of something as simple as a dress.Not even signs of it. There is a “no man´s land” that needs to be addressed by an implacable global regulatory framework. There are not enough guarantees and this situation turns globalization into an anarchic system, although pretending to be built within freedom. It supposes to be a model of free market but not within free rules and abusive practices. It seems that current stage has created of a free market a free space for tax evasion and violation of human rights.

The original idea of globalization is to create connections among countries that results on a boost of development for those that are under poverty standards. Therefore, highly beneficial for their economic growth and well being of their citizens that helps industries to create stronger structures by relaxing their financial burden. It does not mean a loss of rights or abuses but a reinforcement of the concept of global: a strategy towards integration of all cultures and Nations, in which each Nation contributes with their resources to build a new stage of equality. In the end, we have built a big global structure but without getting rid of the tyrannical relation of a feudal system, now of a global magnitude.

Developed countries/no development countries. A dichotomy that its having the same harmful impact in human rights standards as centuries ago. Instead of making of globalisation a revolutionary system of resilience and growth –beyond economic-financial aspects- is it just at the service of generating more profits for the same interests and people by lowering the conditions of those ones in poverty areas.

A clash of globalisation, not necessary its philosophy.

Foreign investment in vulnerable countries should not be a threat but an opportunity.Its also a responsibility from investors to make sure that lack of transparency and accountability from local governments is not a burden to comply with labor rights –at least in specific relation to their company-. Lets remember Rana Plaza disaster, in which agarment factory outside of Dhaka collapsed in 2013 and killed over 1,100 workers*. Which exposure that the rapid growth of Bangladesh´s garment industry is not being accompanied by workers safety, fair wages or/and economic growth that, in the end, guarantees the fulfillment of human rights´ goals. 

You probably know that most of our clothes have cotton fibers, in fact its considered “the fabric of our lives”*, however maybe you do not know that its harmful for the environment, that child labor at “disturbingly high scale”-India, Uzbekistan, China and Egypt- is “normal” and, in addition to school absenteeism, they receive less than 75 cents a day.

Do you know that? Do you reflect about that when you buy clothes? Do you care if a simple scarf is the result of the work of a child that doesn’t go to school, is under unsafely labor conditions and is almost “condemned” to work in this sector for the rest of their life with the rest of their family?

An interconnected catastrophe that needs the commitment from global institutions, leaders, a generous and strong private sector and active and informed consumers. From all the stages of this complex -and sometimes, obscure process- consumption is the one that could be easily changed: just by being alert and show empathy. A responsible consumption is not about purchasing but of activism: listen, ask, share, demand,etc. In the end there relies the power: consumers. If we boycott a specific product and spread the message, not necessary at media level but in our networks, we have chances to win and make small changes that lead to the ambitious goal of changing the system towards a transparent and accountable fashion industry.

Information,awareness and will from consumers for not being in complicity with human rights violation; truly activists towards a fair global garment industry model, advocate leaders for a legal, transparent and guaranteed supply chain process.Making of a responsible consumption a steady action not just the comfort of one more purchase “without a past”

By “reading”inside the label of each garment we ´ll unfold their past.

The world cannot afford to make a fashion of sustainable practices.

*Child labor in the clothing industry.

* The thing that makes Bangladesh’s garment industry such a huge success also makes it deadly

*Child labor in the fashion supply chain

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