Step Up

For regular readers you will know that I am currently raising money for Labour Behind the Label who are a charity that campaigns to improve conditions and empower workers in the global garment industry. This month they launched a campaign for shoe brands to Step Up and tell us where our shoes are made.

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In 2014 24 billion pairs of shoes were produced, 87% of those shoes were made in Asia. Workers in the shoe industry face many issues from poverty pay, long working hours and denial of union rights to health and environmental risks.

 

Naga-Bai-65-years-homeworker-–-sewer-2Meet Naga Bai, a 65 year old home shoe worker from Ambur in India. For every pair of shoes she stitches, she earns just 10p. She can sew a maximum of 10 pairs per day, meaning her daily income is about £1. This is far too little to live on, a kilogram of rice costs up to 43p. As a home worker, Naga Bai is not eligible to receive any employment benefits, such as a pension or medical insurance.

 

Many shoes are made of leather that use toxic chemicals and dyes which can be dangerous to workers. Chromium 6, used in leather tanning, can cause asthma, eczema, blindness and cancer. When it transfers to the waste water it causes harmful pollution to the environment and to communities nearby.

cys2Here is Jahaj and his brother, aged 8 and 7, working in a factory where animal hides are tanned in Hazaribagh, Bangladesh. They process the raw hides into the first stage of leather. Their job is to get inside the tannery pit, which is full of hazardous chemicals and pull out the hides. They both suffer from rashes and itches. Asked why they perform such dangerous tasks, they said: “When we are hungry, acid doesn’t matter. We have to eat.”

Labour Behind the Label are calling on us to ask ‘who made our shoes’. If brands are transparent about where their shoes are being made it helps workers to claim their rights.

For example…

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Compensation – When the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, more than 1,100 garment workers were killed. But before their families could seek compensation from the brands, the brands’ labels had to be picked out of the rubble. This is because information about which brands were making clothes at those factories wasn’t publicly available. In the horrific event of another catastrophe like Rana Plaza, transparency will allow compensation to be paid for workers and their families much more quickly.

Wages and employment conditions – Knowing the average wages of workers on different grades within a factory and across similar factories would allow for a union to scrutinise whether wages are fair and enough to live on. Women homeworkers play an essential role stitching leather uppers for shoes. But they are often invisible, their rights ignored and they are at the mercy of their employer. Brands must identify and recognise homeworkers and give them the same rights as any other workers.

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What can we do?

You can sign Labour Behind the Label’s petition to call for leading UK shoe brands and retailers Schuh, Office, Faith, Debenhams, Dr Martens, Primark, Asda, Very.co.uk, Bohoo.com, Boden, Harvey Nichols and Sports Direct along with leading global shoe brands Deichmann, Camper, Prada, Birkenstock, CCC and Leder to:

  • Publish the names and addresses of all their suppliers
  • Report on progress in moving away from dangerous chemicals
  • Show that they are respecting the human rights of the people who make their shoes, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions.

You could reduce the number of shoes you buy. An increase in fast fashion has                   drove brands to resort to using unethical practices in making shoes. Buying less                 and better quality will help to combat this.

Or you could buy from ethical shoe brands such as:

Is High Fashion Slow Fashion?

Those who know me know just how much I adore Alexa Chung’s style. A mix of band t-shirts, 60’s mod, English eccentric, scruffy hair, pumps, satchels and high waisted jeans.

So today when she launched her very own fashion label I was eager to see what was on offer.

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I headed to the website and what I found was a great selection of clothes, shoes and accessories but at ridiculously high prices… And this made me think about the ethics and transparency behind high fashion labels. They charge the earth, but why, is it merely because of a brand name? OR Does the garment truly cost that much? Are the cotton farmers, factory workers, shipping merchants, leather dyers paid a fair wage? Given good working conditions? Are the materials extremely good quality? Grown organically? Sourced locally? Rare? Handmade? Do they even know who their suppliers are? Where they are? What conditions they are working in?

Much of the ethical focus is on those fast fashion brands (Primark, H&M, ASOS, Boohoo etc.) because they are cheap and mass produced. Many investigations have been carried out and widely published in the media. However high fashion brands seem to have been left untouched and unscathed.

Is high fashion slow fashion?

I decided to send an email. Within 15 minutes I had a response:

“We understand your concerns. All factories had been visited and approved by our team.

We are also part of the UN Global Compact Program. 

We are happy to make fashion and to make it right as fair as we can.

Here is the link to UN Global Compact website if you want to learn more about it.

This response was a good first step, it shows they believe in making fashion fairly, but it merely just generated more questions. “Where are your factories? What did you find on your visits? How did the workers seem? What about the farmers? Where did the materials come from?”… So I will keep pestering until I get those answers.

But I am only one person. The only way we can get brands to own up and be transparent about where their clothes come from, the only way we can then get brands to ensure where their clothes come from is fair is by all of us asking those questions before we buy. If we keep asking brands the questions and not buying from them until they answer those questions well, they will be forced to ensure their clothes are made ethically.

Petals, keep on asking #whomademyclothes xxx

Asquith – Yoga

I usually do yoga at my local leisure centre and recently they’ve added some extra sessions of piyo and pilates which I can’t wait to get stuck into.

I’ve also started going to an outdoor yoga session which is held at Whistlewood Common (a community-owned area of land in my parent’s town) one Friday a month. Typical UK style – this month’s session was held inside a yurt because of the rain…

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For yoga I used to wear old leggings and a scruffy t-shirt, but since I’m doing it more and I’m getting slightly better at it, I decided to invest in some proper gear and headed to Asquith.  They specify in yoga clothing made from bamboo and organic cotton at a family run factory in Turkey.

Bamboo is a sustainable and environmentally low-impact fabric, it grows faster and absorbs more carbon dioxide than hardwood trees (always a positive!). It is ideal for activewear as it is naturally anti-bacterial and breathable.

All Asquith’s fabrics are Oeko-Tex certified which means they have a low carbon footprint and biodegradable fibres. Their cotton is also GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certified meaning it is ethically grown, chemical free and responsibly manufactured. It keeps it shape, doesn’t fade, bobble or stretch unlike other activewears.

This morning I wore my new clobber to a Sunday session at the leisure centre. As soon as I put them on they felt much more suitable to yoga than what I was previously wearing. They felt like a second skin, gentle and breathable. I might not yet be able to do ‘floating lizard’, but at least I look the part!

Even if you aren’t a yoga/pilates/piyo goer I’d recommend these clothes for loungewear. Proof – I’ve still got mine on now 4 hours after my session this morning!

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Ethical Food Shop

As someone who absolutely loves food, but wants to buy and eat a product that is sustainable and safe, is from a company that looks after its employees and does not damage the environment, I was very much looking forward to Ethical Consumer Magazine’s latest issue.

Every issue Ethical Consumer focuses on a specific area, in which they investigate brands and products and publish their findings alongside an ethical rating. Their May/June issue brought focus to supermarkets and food.

I am under no illusion that supermarkets are an ‘ethical’ way to buy food. Personally I try where possible to buy from the local grocer, market, butcher or baker. However sometimes, for convenience and cost there is simply no other way to do a food shop than to head to the nearest Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op or Aldi.

supermarkEthical Consumer assessed the supermarkets on environment, animals, people and politics to generate an ethiscore. Their full range of products sold, company policies and strategies were reviewed.

As you can see, none of them scored very highly.  The highest being the Co-op with 5.5/20.

Specific findings on animal welfare, climate change, cocoa, cotton, fish, palm oil and timber were detailed in the article.

Did you know that all the cocoa in Co-op brand products will be Fairtrade by 27th May?

Did you know that only 2% of Morrisons fish is MSC-labelled compared to 72% at Sainsbury’s?

As their findings are pretty disheartening Ethical Consumer goes on to explain what the alternatives are. Shopping at a wholefood shops, farmers markets or ordering veg boxes.

If we are to keep shopping at supermarkets, the next best thing to do is buy ethical products from their stores.

Here are some of my favourite products with an Ethical Consumer review:

  • Baked beans – I count myself as abit of a baked bean conosoir. I just love em! Branston tend to be my go-to. And that is why I was gutted to find Branston only have a 4.5 rating. Geo Organics and Mr Organic were found to be the best with a score of 17/20! I will be giving these the taste test and let you know how it goes.

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  • Bananas – I eat a banana every day and always buy Fairtrade. Ethical Consumer’s ‘best buy’ is to go to supermarkets that only sell Fairtrade (Co-op, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s). For non-supermarket bananas Eko Oke is the best as they are Fairtrade and Organic, however I don’t think I have ever seen one of these in an independent shop. Below is a ‘banana split’ showing where the sale of a non-Fairtrade banana is distributed, shockingly workers only receive 7% of the bananas cost. For me, the best advice is to carry on buying Fairtrade.

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  • Coconut oil – I use coconut oil for all sorts. Not just for cooking but for my nails, face, hair and teeth. The brand I use is Lucy Bee’s (scoring 18/20). Sourced from Sri Lanka the oil is unrefined, extra virgin, Fair Trade, organic and raw. And personally, I love it.

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I hope this has helped in some way. If you have any suggestions on how to do an ethical food shop, please comment! x

Labour Behind the Label – Fundraiser

This year I will be doing a number of things to raise money for Labour Behind the Label.

  • Hadrian’s Wall Trek – 8th September – 25 miles over 2 days with my good friend Antoinette.
  • Swap Shop event – venue and date to be confirmed but keep your eyes peeled for an invite!
  • Great North 10k – 9th July – 10k run in Gateshead.

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Labour Behind the Label, based in Bristol, campaign worldwide for garment worker’s rights, supporting workers in their struggle to live in dignity and work in safety. They focus on relief of poverty, promotion of human rights and compliance with the law and ethical standards… not an easy task! They are only a small charity, with a very big job at hand, so every £ raised really does help. Click here to donate.

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“Made in Turkey. Wash at 40 degrees. 100% cotton.” Garment labels give us some information, but tell us nothing about who made our clothes and the conditions they were working in. Even if we look beyond the labels and scour brands’ websites, it’s hard to find out much more.  Believe me, I have tried.

“No-one should live in poverty for the price of a cheap t-shirt.”

When a label says “Made in Europe” should we breathe a sigh of relief? Unfortunately, no. Labour Behind the Label study ‘Labour on a Shoe String’ shows how garment workers in Eastern Europe and the Balkans face severe wage poverty, it was found that shoes labelled “made in Italy” or “made in Germany” are often part-produced in Eastern Europe and the Balkan states, the shoes are then shipped back to the country of origin for labelling and retail.

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But imagine if every item you wore, you knew exactly which factory it was made in and whether the workers had secure contracts, whether they worked in safe conditions, and whether they earned a living wage. This level of transparency is a long way off, but Labour Behind the Label is pushing for it. That is why I am supporting them. With knowledge like this we could really start to challenge the brands, make conscious decisions when buying, boycott those that do not treat workers ethically and push for change within the industry.

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The garment industry turns over almost $3 Trillion a year. Yet garment workers, 80% of them women, work for poverty pay, earning as little as $21 a month. Poverty wages, long hours, forced overtime, unsafe working conditions, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, repression of trade union rights and short term contracts are all commonplace in the clothing industry. It is an industry under huge demands due to fast fashion that is built on exploitation and growing under a lack of transparency that makes holding brands accountable difficult. Labour Behind the Label are dedicated to changing this. I am dedicated to change this.

Thanks to all of you that have donated! It really means a lot. Be sure that I will keep you posted on my challenges.