New short film out of Amnesty International this week. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a direct correlation between the fashion industry and torture. Social issues facing the industry today include: forced labour, child labour, harassment or abuse, nondiscrimination, health and safety, freedom of association and collective bargaining, wages and benefits, hours of work, overtime compensation (Workplace Code of Conduct, FLA).
This weekend, Oxfam Langara will challenge the role of fashion in the context of human rights and social justice.
When: Friday, April 3rd, 2009, 6:00pm (to end @2am, Sat. April 4th)
Where: Fashion Show, Langara College, 100 West 49th Street, Cafeteria/ After Party, Tonic night club, Vancouver
According to the Facebook page:
The Oxfam Campaigns that we will be concentrating on are:
• fair trade
• debt and aid
• health and sanitation
• gender equality
• Arms Control
The show will feature selected appetizers, refreshments, prizes and raffles, entertaining music and key note speakers such as Miriam Palacios, head of Oxfam B.C/Yukon Region and Peter Prontzos, Political Science Professor from Langara College. Ticket holders will have the opportunity to network within the Oxfam community, Vancouver Fashion Week designers, media and photographers, fashion industry leaders, local community leaders, leading social justice advocate, and the head of Oxfam B.C/Yukon Region.
Tickets are 20$, with all proceeds going to Oxfam Canada.
The National Labor Committee released a report last week citing sweatshop conditions in a Guatemalan factory manufacturing clothing for Briggs New York (80%) andLane Bryant (remaining 20%) clothing.
If you don’t want to read the full article, here is the abstract:
“Young Mayan women sew Briggs New York and Lane Bryant clothing under abusive and illegal sweatshop conditions at the Nicotex factory outside Guatemala City. Women in the U.S. are unknowingly purchasing clothing made by other women who are being exploited.
All overtime at the Nicotex factory is mandatory, and 14 2/3-hour shifts, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:40 p.m. including six hours of overtime, are uncommon. The women are routinely at the factory up to 72 hours, forced to toil 20 to 25 hours of overtime. Women unable to remain for overtime work, even if they have family emergencies, are fired. The workers are allowed just 10.2 minutes to sew each Briggs New York blouse for which they are paid 19 ½ cents. The women and their families are trapped in extreme poverty, earning just 76 cents to $1.15 an hour, which comes nowhere close to meeting even their most basic subsistence level needs.
Workers and their children are cheated of health and maternity care, including paid maternity leave, which they paid for and is supposed to be guaranteed under Guatemalan law. Workers are also robbed of their vacation and severance pay and are shortchanged of their legal bonuses.
The Nicotex garment workers have no rights. U.S. company audits are a sham, and the workers have never even heard of a “corporate code of conduct.”
At least some officials of the government-run Social Security Institute appear to be involved in a widespread corruption scam, along with factories such as Nicotex, to defraud the workers and their children of the healthcare they pay for. This scam is an open secret in Guatemala, and it has devastating consequences for the workers.
The Nicotex sweatshop is just another example of how the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement has badly failed to enforce even Guatemala’s most minimal labor laws. US-CAFTA has certainly not empowered workers through respect for their legal rights, nor has it helped raise them out of extreme poverty.”
For those of you who don’t know who Charles Kernaghan is, he is “The Man Who Made Kathy Lee Cry”. He also heads the National Labor Committee. Here’s a video of him discussing the science of exploitation and his work with the NLC from the film The Corporation.
I have been obsessed with U.K. designer Katharine Hamnett for a long time. In fact, it was her slogan t-shirts that first showed me that there was opportunity to transform this industry; she is the quintessential example of a pissed off designer who refuses to stand for the high human cost of fashion. She is dedicated to the promotion of organic cotton, and runs a strong campaign against the conventional ‘white gold’:
“Conventional cotton represents 10% of world agriculture and uses 25% of the world’s pesticides.
100 million conventional cotton farmers, from Russia to South Africa, are living in conditions of abject poverty and near starvation.
Conventional cotton subsidies funded by American taxpayers are causing poverty in the developing world as they lower the world price for cotton. (Americans are the only ones that can change this by writing to their Congress people and telling them they insist on organic cotton clothing.)
20,000 people die every year from accidental pesticide poisoning in conventional cotton agriculture (World Health Organisation). Death by starvation is alarmingly prevalent and 200,000 cotton farmers commit suicide annually due to spiralling debts incurred from buying pesticides. A further 1,000,000 people a year suffer from long-term pesticide poisoning (Pesticide Action Network).
However, if farmers grow cotton organically and can sell it as such, this dire situation is reversed.
By growing organically, farmers get a 50% increase in their income – due to a 40% reduction in costs – and the 20% premium they receive for producing organic cotton allows them to feed, clothe, educate and provide healthcare for their children.
Organic cotton helps farmers trade their way out of poverty. It’s the only formula for survival in the cotton sector in the developing world.”
Another company that offers slogan t-shirts is American Apparel. I have been familiar with their ‘Legalize L.A.’ campaign shirt, but only recently came across their ‘Legalize Gay’ slogan t-shirt. The American Apparel slogan t-shirt wants you to promote and support the repeal of prop 8.
It got me thinking. For me, these slogan shirts represent the convergence of fashion and politics in a clear and positive way; they offer the consumer a sense of empowerment, and send a clear message of support. But what do you think?