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,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.

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 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.

USA pulls out of climate agreement

Selfish and ignorant.  Those were my first thoughts when I found out the USA has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The agreement was not perfect, but what on a such a massive scale could ever be deemed perfect?  It was inspiring to see the world come together with goals to help our planet.  195 countries, to be exact.

We all share this planet, after all.  We all breathe this air, and we all drink this water.  We all seek shelter from storms.

Supporters of the President will say the agreement was economically unfair to the USA and now the USA can be free to pursue it’s own goals.

But now, we join Syria and Nicaragua as the countries who are the outsiders on this issue.

We have willingly turned our back on diplomacy.

If worst comes to worst, we may have turned our back on the basic health and security of our children and grandchildren.

If worst comes to worst, this will be the defining moment when we have decided to condemn the entire world to higher temperatures, bigger droughts, rising seas, severe storms, migration, conflict, disease and starvation.

The USA is currently the #2 polluter in the world.  If our industries become unregulated, our levels of pollution likely rise in the name of short term profit while creating great long term harm.

Even if the US impact is small, it can push the most vulnerable countries underwater – such as the Maldives (population 325,000), Seychelles (87,000), Kiribati (102,000), and the Solomon Islands (585,000).

We must hope that despite not being part of the agreement, our industries will continue to invest in new technologies and try to find cleaner and safer ways to create energy.

We must speak out and support those who do what is good and right for the environment and criticize and hold accountable those that do not.

We must support science.

We must support one another.  This is our planet.  We share it with billions of humans, animals, and plants.

So here we are.  What we do matters.  How we vote matters.

Walk with grace, leave small footprints, but keep your eyes open and use your voice.


(Photo taken at local March for Science)








The problem with VOICE

If you watched (or read about) the State of the Union, you probably recall President Trump’s policy called VOICE, which was the administration’s plan to protect law abiding citizens by exposing crimes committed by immigrants (VOICE = victims of immigration crime engagement).

Unfortunately, like other sloppy rollouts of new policies this administration has completed, the database had a disastrous debut.  The database mistakenly included the names and detailed personal information of children and babies, and also included many adults who are not criminals.

From the LA Times:

The matches reveal the detention facility the immigrant is housed in, custody status, age, country of birth, date of birth, race, gender and aliases. There doesn’t appear to be any way to distinguish between someone who may have perpetrated a crime beyond being in the country illegally.

Attorneys representing immigrants expressed anger and worry over the release of names that were supposed to be protected.

Bryan Johnson, the Long Island, N.Y., lawyer who first noticed the error, called the release “reckless incompetence on the part of the Trump administration.”

“In their haste to pretend like they care about victims of immigrant crimes, the Trump administration released personally identifiable information regarding vulnerable children at risk of human trafficking and other crimes,” said Johnson, who defends children brought into the United States from abroad, many escaping violence.

Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney in New York, said he was shocked that a quick search of the database brought up one of his clients — a 26-year-old asylum applicant from Lebanon who has been detained by immigration officials for two years.

The man had overstayed his visa and sought asylum because he is a pro-democracy leader in a youth movement back home and being persecuted by Hezbollah, Kolken said.

“If a terrorist organization is looking for him they may simply enter his name into a database and know exactly where he is,” Kolken said. “It puts his entire family back home in jeopardy.”

Supporters of VOICE will likely say the errors will be corrected, and that only a small percentage of immigrants were affected by the mistake.  But, remember: these are people’s lives and putting some of the most vulnerable in society at risk is no small error that can be easily corrected.


Photo: refugee and immigrant support rally in my hometown






Blood Diamonds

I remember at the start of the 21st century a lot of news coverage about blood diamonds, i.e. precious stones mined by abused labor to fund warlords.  But, lately, I have not heard much.  I wondered if the world’s efforts to stop blood diamonds had been successful.

Unfortunately, they have not.  That’s not to say they were a complete failure, however.  The Kimberley Process, a conflict-free diamond certification program, now has over 80 countries participating, and consumers are far more aware and ask questions about the origins of their purchases.  But, the conflict-free certification system has major flaws.

Here is an example of how a conflict diamond can still easily be traded: a diamond is mined by child labor, it is then illegally transported to an approved country and mixed with conflict-free diamonds which are shipped to a third country (often UAE or Switzerland) and are certified by them. Then a fourth country (like Belgium) will buy the jewels and sell them to a consumer, likely from a fifth country (like the USA).

As the World Policy Institute warns, “The entire system rests largely on the integrity of African diamond producing and exporting governments, diamond dealers, and conduit countries like the United Arab Emirates.”

Clearly, changes need to be made to the Kimberley Process to make the trade more transparent and honest.


An excerpt from a 2015 Time Magazine story:

“Consumers who care can trace the fish on their plate back to the patch of sea it was taken from. They can choose fair-trade apparel that benefits the cotton farmers and seamstresses who produced their clothing. But the lineage of one of the most valuable products that many consumers will ever buy in their lifetime remains shrouded in uncertainty, and too often the people who do the arduous work of digging those precious stones from the earth are the ones who benefit the least. The only way that the blood will finally be washed away from conflict diamonds is if there is a true fair-trade-certification process that allows conscientious consumers to buy Congo’s artisanal diamonds with peace of mind—just as they might a cup of coffee.”

photo: public domain, the Hope Diamond, Wikipedia

Conflict Minerals

From CBC News:

“Robin Wright stars in a documentary called When Elephants Fight, the name taken from the African proverb, ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ It means that in conflicts between the powerful, it is the weak who are hurt.”

CBC had a fascinating and troubling story about DRC’s conflict minerals.

In the USA, section 1052 of the Dodd-Frank Act seeks to prohibit companies from buying conflict minerals, such as tin, tantalum, and tungsten.  President Trump wishes to repeal this law, seeing it as being too much regulation on business.

Fortunately, companies such as Intel disapprove.  Intel, Apple, and other high tech companies rely on the “Three T” minerals for mobile and computer parts, but understand the moral need for conflict-free minerals.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined by child and slave labor.  The money goes to warlords who have little regard for human rights.


Video: YouTube, Stand With Congo


Waris Dirie and the campaign to stop FGM

Supermodel and actress Waris Dirie was a victim of female genital mutilation.  She is now an activist, seeking to outlaw the procedure and hoping to educate communities in the dangers of the practice.  This video from the Desert Flower Foundation can be found on YouTube.

The one area where I disagree is that I believe FGM can be considered a cultural and religious practice.  Culture can be defined as simply as common practices in a social group.  And, religious leaders over the centuries have interpreted religion differently – the Shafi’i school of Islamic law, for example, has encouraged FGM.

That is not to say that culture and religious belief should be set in stone – clearly, FGM is brutal and wrong.  The closest thing I can think of to compare it to is Chinese foot binding.  Foot binding mutilated girls for life and was a widespread cultural practice, even in the early 20th century.  The history of foot binding goes back to the 10th century.

There were outspoken critics who wrote articles, educated communities, and spoke to the press in the late 1800s.

In 1912, the government finally banned the practice.  Numbers declined significantly in the 1920s as women’s rights became a worldwide discussion.

By 1949, the only cases of foot binding were scattered in the most rural, small communities.

The same can happen for FGM – so, please, talk about it.  The more people are aware, the more likely things will change.