June Political Intelligence
June was a success for fashion in the House of Commons; Dr Lisa Cameron, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion (for which Fashion Roundtable provide the secretariat) mentioned the industry on two separate occasions. Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee which questioned retailers and government officials for the Committee’s sustainability of the fashion industry inquiry, brought up the disappointing (but again, expected) news that government rejected all of the recommendations made in the final report.
Creativity is not lacking in the battle against climate change, a point proven by Dr Lisa Cameron MP’s account of the innovations presented in the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. For example, training-shoe manufacturers are now reclaiming sea plastics and turning them into shoes. Chris Law MP, also from the Scottish National Party, added that these innovations are not limited to the fashion world. Scotland is a trailblazer in incorporating sustainability measures, and now boasts the world’s first company researching methods to re-tarmac roads with recycled plastics rather than oil.
In Engagements with the Prime Minister, Mary Creagh MP questioned why the government rejected the Fixing Fashion Report’s recommendation of charging a penny on every garment sold in the UK, a ban on the 300,000 tonnes of incinerated and landfill-destined textiles, and all the other very welcome and necessary suggestions. Mrs May’s response was that many of the recommendations are already covered by policy. This feels counter-intuitive, considering that the report showed the government was definitely not doing enough.
Mrs May’s account of the European Council meeting earlier in June noted that the Council discussed the cyber threats to democracy, Russia’s failure to deliver on the commitments made in the Minks agreements, Turkey’s drilling activities and the building up of tensions in Iran. Of course, climate change could not be ignored: and the PM reminded us that the UK is “the first major economy in the world to commit to ending its contribution to global warming by 2050”, although further clarity is needed on how exactly that will be achieved. In what we can assume was an allusion to the catwalk, Dr Lisa Cameron asked that Parliamentarians “walk the walk”, by making a recycling bin for clothing available in Parliament as a first step in the right direction toward net zero.
A global supply chain
This month, Fashion Roundtable had the privilege of attending the Freedom Fund’s ‘Downward Pressures: Reforming the Apparel Sector by Tackling Purchasing Practices’ panel event, which looked at how purchasing practices in fast fashion reinforced harmful working conditions in factories abroad.
The discussion was moderated by Jill Tucker, Head of Labour Rights Programme at the C&A Foundation, and brought together insights from policy, research and the garment manufacturing industry, with:
Aruna Kashyap, Senior Counsel for the Women's Rights Division, Human Rights Watch,
Mostafiz Uddin, Managing Director of Denim Expert, and
Jennifer Schappert, Policy Advisor, OECD Responsible Business Conduct Unit.
The event centered around the Human Rights Watch latest report, “Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly”: How Apparel Brand Purchasing Practices Drive Labur Abusees, headed by Aruna, who interviewed garment workers and suppliers about the conditions for manufacturing for Western brands.
The motivation of ‘fast fashion’ - higher volumes and lower costs - pushes brands and buyers to negotiate tighter deadlines for cheaper prices in an environment where brands are competing for the customer’s attention, and suppliers are competing for deals from brands. Briefly, consumers want lower prices from shops, and a greater range of options offered at a higher rate when shopping. To make sure that profit margins are increasing, brands are pressured to produce more at a lower cost, which trickles down to their suppliers. Suppliers, which have to satisfy larger orders in a shorter time-frame for a lower price, have an incentive to invest less in health and safety conditions, and workers welfare because they do not have sufficient funds to do so. To satisfy orders, workers are pushed to produce more in less hours, for a lower wage. Furthermore, suppliers have an incentive to engage with risky cost-saving initiatives, such as outsourcing to other factories, which are unable to secure deals with brands because they do not adhere to their health and safety regulations.
The two big problems for exploration are low wages and dangerous working conditions - and both are very dependent on the price of orders. Without decreasing resources, suppliers are pushed to make risky and life threatening decisions about where to spend their money to make sure their business does not fail.
The two main policy tools to prevent abuse in the workplace are workers freedom of association and minimum wage standards. But how can suppliers afford to pay their workers a minimum wage if the price of orders are decreasing?
The Human Rights Watch Report covers different methods and practices that can be adopted by brands to ensure that this isn’t encouraged by their actions. But it’s evident that this is not something that can be truly extinguished without policy, and the burden of regulation does not lie solely upon the countries within which these factories operate.