How can WE change the garment industry?
It's now 7 year since the collapse of Rana Plaza, 6 years since the first season of Sweatshop, and yet there are still plenty of garment workers living- and working under poor conditions.
Since my participation in "Sweatshop - Deadly Fashion", not much have changes for the actually garment workers. What I have seen is an increase of awareness around this issue, more people decide to buy less, or buy second hand, and also more brands are promoting ethical- and ecofriendly clothings.
I often get asked: "What can we do to change this?"
I have many examples of things we, as individuals and consumers, can do to both the ethics- and climate issues in the garment industry, and I would love to share some examples with you.
I'll just start by saying, this is not only the responsibility of the consumers. Personally, I think the big chains have the most responsibility. The clothing industry is a million-dollar industry, so why not take some of the profits and raise the wages of textile workers? Or, how about raising the price of the clothes with only €1? This would have double their payment...
There are also many who believe that the big clothing brands have their own factories. Most of them do not, but have a lease for certain periods. This means that they do not have direct control over what happens at the factories, and unfortunately this is also a way to resign a good deal of responsibility.
In 2015, Anniken and I were invited by H&M to visit one of their factories in Cambodia. Whichever factory we choose. After some conversations with them, we asked for permission to enter the "Tak Son" factory, where H&M's supplier list showed us that they had their production. The day after we sent a message to H&M, they removed Tak Son from their supplier lists, and we got an answer that they no longer had their production there. It was quite a coincidence that the factory list was updated the same day. In the aftermath, they ended the collaboration with Tak Son because it did not follow the "Code of Conduct". Imagine that, instead of staying and actively working to improve working conditions at the factory, they simply choose to leave the "problem" and move their production to another factory. (Watch this episode HERE)
Let's get to it!
Push the big chains When the big clothing brands don't take responsibility, we have to... Imagine that H&M and the other big brands are a bunch of lazy and heavy elephants that do not get over a small heap. They know they can do it, but they don't bother. Then we can help them get started by pushing them in their asses, hehe. This is how I think about the big clothing chains, and I ask myself, "How can I influence the big clothing chains to make a difference?"
Here are some great tips for pushing brands: 1. Go to their Facebook page, and write, "When can I expect workers to earn a living and live off?". If enough people do this, hopefully the chain will realize that consumers are taking this seriously!
2. Send a letter / mail to the clothing chain you think is immoral, and tell them what you think.
Activist Another way to show the big brands that you care, is to engage as an activist in their physical stores. Here are three suggestions on what you can say / do, where you very clearly convey your opinions and values about the textile industry:
1. If you actually need new clothes, then as a rule, always ask some questions on the clothings. "Do you have ethical guidelines?", "Do you know which factory these clothes are made in?", "Do you know if the workers have been paid a living wage to make this?", "Have children made this garment?", "Is this made under good working conditions? ". This way, you make it clear that these are important issues for you when buying clothes, without making the purchase itself too complicated!
2. If you fancy clothes but don't necessarily need them, then ask the same questions as mentioned above. If the cashier does not know the answers to any of the questions you ask (which they often don't): Do not buy the garment. This way you're showing them what's important to you as an consumer.
3. Buy a garment without asking questions. Return to the store the next day and ask if you can get your money back. Say you've seen Sweatshop / read about the textile industry and you don't want to support an industry that is so immoral and bad. Here I can't promise you that you will get the money back, but your message is clear. (Believe me, this is going to be a big talk at H&M, if many people suddenly return garments because they don't want to buy clothes made under poor working conditions!)
Boycott Many wonder what will happen if we boycott. Will textile workers lose their jobs? We don't know the consequences of boycotting, and so I can't encourage this, BUT, every time we spend money, we give a vote to what world we want to live in. Think about that for a moment. Here are my thoughts on what would happen if more people had boycotted:
1. Yes, maybe more workers will lose their jobs. But I still think something "drastic" has to happen, for change to come. Maybe someone has to struggle for a little time, so that others, later, can feel better (?)
2. If you were a manager/ CEO of H&M, and you noticed that consumers stopped buying clothes from you. Had you stepped down on production, resigned to abridges, and just accepted that no one would buy your clothes anymore? You want to satisfy the consumer as much as possible, so you do your best to win back the consumers. If we as consumers demand fair clothes, the big clothing brands KNOW what they need to do to keep making money
3. Boycotting may not be the right thing, but what about changing your buying habits? Stop going for "shopping", like it's a hobby, buy less clothes, and just buy what you need
Ethical clothing I 'll recommend you to buy clothes from the chains that are (at least!!) honest about where they produce their clothes and check if they have public supplier lists (even tho, it might not be a very accurate and correct list, as with the situation with H&M mention above)
If you care even more and want the workers to get the right salary and work in good working conditions, then you should seek out ethical clothing stores in your city. With a quick search on something like: "Ethical clothing (+ city)" or "Fairtrade clothing (+ city)", there may be more shops selling ethical and fair trade clothing then you'd think. I know from experience that there are not so many shops here in Norway which is a 100% ethical, but in Oslo there are some: Etisk mote, Nøstebarn and Fair & Square. There's also many fine shops online that are ethical: Grønt Skift, Corkini, Mud Jeans and many more (most of these are norwegian brands/shops)
Social Media & Campaigns
There's no doubt that social media is a brilliant tool for sharing knowledge. Participate in campaigns you think are important and share them further. Share Sweatshop with friends and family. Post photos, videos and articles that engage you. The more people who know the truth about the textile industry, the more likely we are to change it! A good start to your commitment is to sign this campaign on an ethics law in Norway
Also, join check out Amnesty International'a campaign called "Human Rights Law for Businesses" (Norwegian: Menneskerettighetslov for næringslivet)
Environmental organization / Charity
Joining organizations or charities that stand up for for the rights of garment workers. This is also a way to make difference. "Framtiden i våre hender" (Future in our hands) is probably the largest environmental organization in Norway that puts the matter of textile workers' wages and working conditions quite high! By the way, it was this organization that came up with the idea of making "Sweatshop". To read more about them and get involved HERE
Also, check out- and get involved with Clean Clothes Campaign, they're outstanding in this field
Member of political party There are political parties that also work to improve conditions in the textile industry. The strongest parties in Norway to care for this matter is MDG, SV, Red, KRF and AP. Maybe it is interesting for you to join in one of the youth parties, and be the voice for all the garment workers?
Extra nice tips • Like- and follow Facebook pages of those brands/organization/influencers etc. that is working to improve the industry (show them your support!)
• Take part in a local (or in these times, online) demonstration, or you could even be the one hosting a demonstration!
• Join in on Fashion Revolution Week (a global movement, happening THIS week of 20-26. April 2020)
• Hang up stickers and patches like this around in your city and in the pockets of clothings in the stores (You can create your own, either by hand or in a document on your computer)
• Find out which brands are the most / least ethical at www.rankabrand.org
• Buy used clothing at the flea market, retro shops / vintage stores, fretex, uff or finn.no
• Give your used clothing to fretex, uff, flea market or charities
• If you get rifts in your clothes, learn how to sew and repair them instead of buying new ones
• "Quality over quantity" - Buy good quality clothes as they last longer
• NOTE! Although the clothes are expensive / branded, it does not mean it is made under good and ethical working conditions
• Arrange clothing swap parties with friends or make them public! Almost like shopping, only more fun and social
Engage and raise awareness
This is probably the most important point of all! If I were the only one in this world to do all of the above, then it might feel like a battle you could never win. In addition, it would have taken me a long time to spread the message to every single one. Fortunately, I'm not the only one who engages in this! We are many! A WHOLE OCEAN OF PEOPLE!
It is so important to remember that we are all born with a voice. A voice to be used and raised! If we now know that the textile industry is not working as it should, and we're all passing this message on to 3-4 friends, there will be quite a few now, who knows what issues we are facing.
Awareness comes first, then change. So think about what YOU can do to raise awareness and engage with others. Maybe you have a blog, and then blogging about it can be incredibly smart. Maybe you are a member of a trade union and want to take it up with your colleagues. Maybe you are a teacher at a school that uses school sweaters. Are they ethical? Maybe you work as a fashion photographer, who do you want to take a photo for? Maybe you work in H&M, can you influence from the inside? Maybe you are a journalist and can write about it? Maybe you choose to talk about this topic at your school?
HOW CAN YOU CONTRIBUTE?
"Everyone can contribute, and together we make a difference!"
If you have even more suggestions for what we can do, feel free to comment below, and feel free to share this with those who wonders what we can do...