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Fashion and human rights

In the last post, I used H&M as an example of a company that promotes itself as ethical but upon careful research, one finds that is not the case.  Working conditions are dangerous and children work long, tedious hours, missing out on an education.

So, what can you do?

Yes, you can raise awareness and you can write to the companies.  That certainly will not make matters worse, and may even help.

But, you can also get creative and find fashionable finds at consignment stores.  You can buy new items at ethical operations, such as novica.com,where you “meet” the artisan who makes your dress, sweater, skirt, shirt, jewelry,etc.  Novica is part of National Geographic, and has some really fascinating pieces.

You can go online to esty, and find unique jewelry and support the artisan.

You can check out yooxygen, a sustainable/ethical fashion project of designer seller Yoox.  https://www.yoox.com/us/project/yooxygen

You can invest in the mutual funds that are socially responsible (SRIs).  Wikipedia explains “Socially responsible investing (SRI), or social investment, also known as sustainable, socially conscious, ‘green’ or ethical investing, is any investment strategy which seeks to consider both financial return and social good to bring about a social change.”

You can trade clothes with friends.

You can learn to sew if you’re really ambitious and creative.

You can support women’s rights and education through sponsoring a child, donating money to groups like Camfed, or raising awareness.

You can donate your old but useable clothes to local community organizations like Volunteers of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Goodwill, etc.

You can donate your old and unusable clothes to places like animal shelters which often use it for bedding.

After all, waste is a huge problem in fashion.  According to The Fashion Law, a Danish news program discovered:

According to TV2, which began investigating H&M in June, KARA/NOVEREN a waste disposal company in Denmark has incinerated over 60 tons of new, unworn apparel from H&M since 2013. These hundreds of thousands of garments consist of reusable/recyclable materials.

So, let us try to play a small but important part in combatting the wasteful, exploitative, and cruel aspects of fashion.






The Price of Affordable Fashion

H&M is rolling out a new designer collaboration, this time with Erdem.  Like previous ones, there will likely be a line out the door for affordable high fashion.

High fashion is sometimes more about name than quality.

But, affordable fashion has its own share of problems.  In this post, I will lay out some of the problems.  In the next post, I will offer some alternative choices for fashion.

I will focus on H&M here, but many mall stores could be accused of the same abuses.

H&M advertises itself as ethical, and they have received positive press.  For example, after the tragic and preventable factory fire in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of textile workers, H&M signed a pledge to follow fire safety codes.

Yet, a follow up study by The Clean Clothes Campaign found the company was failing to protect workers.  Marc Bain from qz.com writes:

What’s more worrisome, the report only looked at H&M’s “Platinum” and “Gold” suppliers—the factories that supposedly boast the highest standards in labor and environmental protections. They account for 56 of the 229 factories H&M uses in Bangladesh.
About 61% didn’t have fire exits that met the accord’s standards, which demand that fire exits have enclosed stairwells and fire-rated doors. Without those measures, exits can quickly fill with smoke in a fire, effectively trapping workers on a factory’s upper floors.

Another issue is H&M promotes itself as paying a fair wage.  But, its fair wage standards do not apply to subcontractors.  In India, young girls often are victim to sumangali schemes, which promise money for a dowry, taking children away from their homes and schools if they work.

A report by Mother Jones:

H&M’s fair-wage promise does not extend to all of its subcontractors, which include the factories that spin the cotton into thread (also known as spinning mills). In India, most sumangali schemes take place in spinning mills. That the plan doesn’t include subcontractors could be a big problem: If some factories in the supply chain are not required to pay a fair wage, garment factories can simply outsource more of their labor to those cheaper operations. When I asked H&M how the company plans to address the challenge of factories outsourcing labor to subcontractors with potentially exploitive conditions, spokesman Håcan Andersson said, “We are not able to assist you further in this matter.”

A report by Reuters found that undocumented Syria refugees were working without any human rights protections in Turkish factories, making clothes for H&M and other mass market chains.

Human Rights Watch also issued a report on H&M subcontractors in Cambodia:

Workers said they were fearful of forming a union and that eligible workers did not receive maternity leave or pay. From employee accounts, some workers were children younger than 15, the legally permissible age in Cambodia. One woman estimated that 20 of the 60 workers in her group were children. Children worked as hard as the adults, they said, including on Sundays, nights for overtime work, and public holidays when there were rush orders.

Drought in Kenya

We see big natural disasters in the news that wreck widespread havoc within minutes and hours: hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.  But, there are also huge natural disasters occurring that take time to do their terrible damage.

Periods of drought have been extending and intensifying all over the world this century. In countries such as Kenya, drought causes food production to fall significantly, plunging more families into poverty.  Obviously, the lack of resources also adversely affects the elephant population.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust updated their supporters this week:

It has been an especially trying month this September with too many orphaned babies pouring through our doors, victims of the ongoing drought in large parts of the country, meaning that mothers cannot produce the milk required for their young babies and are even collapsing and dying from exhaustion themselves. It is heartbreaking to watch another factor contributing to the decline of this species when they already have so much to contend with; aside from poaching and clashes with communities they now have to face shortages of food. We work hard on the ground in Tsavo, home to Kenya’s largest population of elephants, contrasting and maintaining our wind-powered boreholes, to alleviate the pressure of water shortages but we know the main contributing factor this year is the scarcity of vegetation. Our DSWT funded Kenya Wildlife Service Mobile Veterinary teams have been kept very busy on the ground too, attending to multiple cases and assisting in rescues as well.img_1566

(photo: DSWT)

Gucci goes fur-free

Good news from thecut.com, a popular fashion site.  Gucci, a brand famous for its use of fur, will no longer use it.  The fur trade is cruel to animals, and this is encouraging news.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

Gucci is the latest fashion brand to go fur-free. During a talk at the London College of Fashion on Wednesday, Gucci President and CEO Marco Bizzarri announced that as of its Spring 2018 collection, the company will “no longer use, promote or publicize animal fur.”

The brand also announced that it would be joining the Fur Free Alliance, an organization which “focuses on the deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur bearing animals both in wild trapping and industrial fur farming.” In addition to refraining from any future fur use, Gucci will be organizing a charity auction to sell off its remaining animal fur items, with proceeds going to LAV, an Italian animal rights group, and the Humane Society of the United States.

This is a significant departure for the company, which has previously incorporated animal fur into many of its designs, including kangaroo fur-lined loafers. As Vogue points out though, the move is not entirely unexpected, given that Kering, Gucci’s parent company, has been working towards increased sustainability for some time now. With its pledge, Gucci joins brands like Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Madewell which have also decided to go forgo the use of fur.

UK ivory trade ban

If you’ve read this blog or follow elephant-related news, you know one sticking point of banning ivory sales is what to do with antiquities on the market.  The UK has allowed sales of antiquities if either they are carved prior to 1947 or if they have a government certificate dating them prior to 1990, which is the year the international ivory trade was banned.

The big problem, of course, is that it isn’t terribly difficult for a seller to forge a certificate or lie about the age of ivory, and the consumer would likely be unaware they were buying illegal goods.  It is difficult even for experts to date ivory.

There has been a campaign to ban all ivory sales in the UK, and after years of hard work, it paid off.  From The Guardian:

The UK government has bowed to campaigners and will ban the sale of ivory regardless of age, according to a new consultation.

The UK is the biggest exporter of legal ivory in the world and shutting down the trade will help prevent illegal ivory being laundered by criminals. More than 50 elephants are killed by poachers every day on average and the population of African elephants plunged by a third between 2007-14 alone, leading to warnings that the entire species could go extinct…

The government was put under pressure by a wide range of campaign groups and prominent individuals including the former Conservative leader William Hague, the primatologist Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais. Within the Tory party, the foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the former environment secretary Owen Paterson have pressed for a complete ban.

This news was a surprise to many, as the UK has always been very protective of its right to sell antique ivory, seeing ivory as important artifacts in its history as an empire.  But, as the U.K. is scheduled to host a 2018 international conference on protecting wildlife, it was time to act.

Video: YouTube, IFAW

Laos ivory market

Sadly, as one ivory market gets strict, another gets lax.  China has banned ivory sales but Laos is now happy to offer ivory to Chinese tourists looking for a way around the ban.  According to a report by Save the Elephants, the ivory market in Laos has surged.  Laos is an economically poor country, and people aren’t as concerned about an elephant’s welfare as their bottom line.  I did a daytrip from Thailand to Laos and most of the markets sold counterfeit goods, so it doesn’t surprise me that markets are  also now selling controversial ivory.

IMG_2085The demand for ivory must shrink for the supply to dry up – China has been effective at reducing their ivory market supply, but they must continue to try to change the culture, which unfortunately still prizes ivory as a sign of wealth, luck, and high social status.

From ABC news:

The report on Laos said ivory goods are sold openly there, including in the capital Vientiane, and that law enforcement is lax, despite the country’s pledge to curb wildlife trafficking. Researchers said the cheapest ivory item that they saw was a $3 ring, while a pair of polished tusks was the most expensive at $25,000. They also noted that wholesale prices of raw ivory in Laos dropped by more than half between 2013 and 2016, attributing the fall largely to the Chinese economic slowdown.

Adapting behavior due to poachers

An article in Newsweek caught my eye this week:

Elephants in East Africa are adapting their behavior to survive the greatest threat to their existence: poachers.

A study published in the peer-reviewed Ecological Indicators journal this week suggests that elephants are aware of the danger of poaching gangs and have begun moving at night to avoid them.

The research, carried out by the Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants and the University of Twente in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, used GPS tracking and mortality data collected in northern Kenya between 2002 and 2012.

It is interesting to note that elephants can see well in the dark, but moving at night still has plenty of danger.  Lions, for example, are nocturnal and are happy to pick off baby elephants for a meal.  Obviously, the elephants weighed their options and would rather risk lions than bullets and machetes.

The GPS tracking may save elephant lives.  Anti-poaching ranger teams can now follow the elephants’ movement and protect them better against their worst enemy.