Just a few weeks ago we marked the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, one of the worst industrial accidents in recent history. It was also marked by the first ever Fashion Revolution Day, a global call for a change in fashion. Thousands of people around the world turned their clothes inside out and asked clothing brands ‘who made your clothes’ in a call for transparency in the fashion industry.
The Rana Plaza tragedy exposed the dangers associated with textile production in countries like India, China, Thailand and the Philippines, where major fashion brands outsource their production to reduce costs and also avoid environmental and labour regulations.
Though the scale of production in these countries may differ, the problems remain similar. Years of toxic water pollution, inhumane working conditions and poor safety standards point to a fashion system lacking in accountability. Many major brands would find it difficult to identify the suppliers that provide the materials for their clothes or what chemicals are being used and released during the production processes. It is little wonder that when tragedies like Rana Plaza happen it is so difficult to trace responsibility back up the supply chain.
This needs to change.
While supply chains are often incredibly complex, fashion companies have the power to change the way they make and source our clothes – through their choices of suppliers, the design of their products and the control they can exert, for example, over the use of chemicals in the production process and the final product.
In fact, over the past few years some brands have proven change is possible and we are already seeing the results. Thanks to the pressure from people around the world, 20 fashion companies, from luxury brands like Valentino and Burberry to high-street regulars, like Zara, Mango and H&M have committed to clean up their production processes and products of hazardous chemicals by 2020. Even more importantly, progress is already being made towards this goal, notably on transparency.
The turning tide
For the first time ever in the fashion industry over 100 suppliers have publicly disclosed information about the chemicals they are discharging, facility-by-facility, chemical-by-chemical – this is something that was considered ‘unfeasible’ by the textile industry just 12 months ago. This is critical to provide local communities, journalists and officials with the information they need to ensure that local water supplies are not turned into public sewers for industry. These brands are proving that transparency is possible and setting in motion a fundamental change in the way clothing is manufactured.
There is still a long way to go to clean up fashion but the tide is turning.
The first Fashion Revolution Day offered a moment for us all to remember those that lost their lives at Rana Plaza but also an opportunity for us to-rethink the entire value chains of relationships behind the clothes we buy.
We cannot afford to wait for more ‘wake up calls’ like Rana Plaza to force short-term solutions. We need a fashion revolution and we need it now.
Ieva Vilimaviciute is a fashion fanatic and Detox campaigner at Greenpeace International. Check out her tweets @iewoole.
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