By Sarah Jean Harrison
I’ve been following social justice issues for years. Women’s rights, climate change, homelessness - I was well versed in everything. But fashion was different. I just didn’t pay attention until Rana.
On April 23rd, 2013, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was declared structurally unsafe by engineers. There were large cracks in the reinforced pillars that held up the 8 story factory. Workers were afraid to enter the building.
But fast fashion is a global behemoth. The factory was under contract to supply large orders for their Western brands. Late orders resulted in a 5% payment reduction per week from buyers. Closing down Rana to repair the building meant large payment penalties. The risk of losing business appeared to be greater than the risk to human life.
On April 24th, 2013, engineers miraculously declared the factory safe. Workers were brought in for their morning shifts. Shortly after 8:30 am there was a power cut. The rooftop generators roared into action, the building vibrated and began to crumble. 1130 died in the rubble.
Once the disaster hit social media I couldn’t look away. I was haunted by images of bodies buried in the rubble alongside labels of very familiar brands.
"After Rana fell, I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t not know any longer."
5 Years Later...
It’s been 5 years since Rana and 5 years since fast fashion caught my attention. I’ve met so many brave designers, dedicated producers and social enterprises working to make deep and lasting change within fashion. And while we certainly have much to accomplish, I want to highlight some of the positive outcomes that have emerged in the fashion space since Rana.
1. Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh
What happened after the Rana tragedy? The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions focused on factory safety and health measures within Bangladesh’s garment factories. Over 200 brands signed on to the Accord, giving it the strength to push for factory compliance. Factories that failed to meet the requirements of the Accord risked losing business, which meant that conditions did start to improve.
2. Worker’s Rights meets Social Enterprise
What the Accord did not focus on was worker’s rights. Thankfully independent social enterprises like Labor Voices have risen to the challenge. Labor Voices utilizes technology to give workers the capacity to speak anonymously (and thus not risk losing their jobs or facing violence) about labour violations and factory conditions. Tools like this make it much harder to hide violations like child labour or modern slavery, and bring us much closer to supply chain transparency.
3. Circular Fibres Initiative – Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Dame Ellen MacArthur is bringing the circular economy into the real world. Her Circular Fibres Initiative partnered with Stella McCartney last year to launch the A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion's future, a report that explores how to shift the clothing industry away from take-make-dispose model towards a truly circular economy. This project, which is wide-reaching and ambitious in scale, pulls experts from tech, design and textiles to facilitate a new way of doing business.
4. Fashion Revolution Week
Founded by Fashion Revolution, this global movement is making huge waves with their Fashion Revolution Week and the “who made my clothes?” campaign. The strength of #whomademyclothes comes from the ability to connect everyone along the fashion supply chain, from maker to fashionista, via social media. Ignoring the problems of fast fashion is a lot harder when you see faces and learn stories. This year’s Fashion Revolution Week runs from April 23rd to 29th, 2018 and there are events around the world.
5. The New Accord
Remember that Accord I spoke about in #1? Well, it’s due to expire this year. There is a new, Transition Accord that will come into effect on June 1st, 2018. This version includes some focus on worker’s rights and Freedom of Association, as well as the potential to expand to home textiles and fabric/knit accessories. But this time there are only 140 signatories to date. The strength of the Accord truly comes from the number of brands that sign on. Which means we have to keep this issue in the spot light and keep the pressure on brands!
While there have certainly been setbacks since Rana, there has been much positive change. And change-makers, like the brands that work here with Artisella, have emerged in droves.
This Fashion Revolution Week let’s honour the memory of everyone killed in the name of fast fashion, celebrate our successes thus far and acknowledge all the work that REMAINS.
Ask brands #whomademyclothes?
Sarah Jean Harrison is an ecofashionista, ethical luxury advocate and the founder of Peace Flag House, a boutique creative agency that specializes in communications for sustainability sector. Find her @peaceflaghouse.