London, United Kingdom – “This is not just a question of eradicating modern slavery; it is a question of transforming a profit-driven capitalist world into a sustainable model that ensures the survival of humanity and of our planet,” Safia Minney, British social entrepreneur and sustainable fashion champion, said in the introduction of her latest book, Slave to Fashion.
Launched on 24 April 2017 in London, four years after the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh that put the spotlight on modern slavery in the fashion industry, the book provides an insight on fast fashion and how it led to modern slavery in the industry; talks about laws and organizations that are trying to effect change in the system; and most importantly, discusses solutions and how businesses and consumers can make a difference. The goal of the book is to encourage each consumer to be the change and help transform the unethical practices in the fashion industry that leads to slavery.
During the launch, Safia noted her experiences that all went into the writing of the book. “My research brought me to meet remarkable people. A girl who at the age of 15 was burned out… Meeting people who are trapped, living and forced to stay in dormitories. Two hundred thousand people in the south of India who are trapped in the Sumangali system… people who are working 17 to 18 hours a week and would only take two days off a month if they’re lucky.”
Slave to Fashion
The book Slave to Fashion is composed of five parts. Chapter 1 looks at how governments, human rights organizations and trade unions work towards improving the welfare of workers. Here, interviews with Sam Maher of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and Cindy Berman, head of Knowledge and Training at the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI), along with their efforts on making a difference, are featured.
The work of Baroness Lola Young, who proposed an amendment to the UK Modern Slavery Act is also presented in this chapter. Baroness Young’s amendment now compels UK companies to provide an annual public statement on how they work towards eliminating slavery from their supply chains.
Quintin Lake, a research fellow of the Hult Business School describes the legislation as a “game changer,” noting the increased engagement of CEOs and business executives in knowing and understanding their supply chains.
As a member of the UK Parliament, Baroness Young believes in the role of governments to eradicate slavery in the fashion industry: “I think governments have to take responsibility for encouraging and maybe incentivizing… so business[es] can actually do a lot more, a lot better.”
Meanwhile, Chapter 2 of the book examines the global economy and the fashion industry. It looks at the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Fair Trade Principles vis-à-vis the rights and welfare of workers in the fashion industry.
“What I love about Safia’s book, is the recognition that this [modern slavery] is complex, there are many stakeholders that need to be part of the change. Most importantly, workers themselves need a voice. They need to be agents of their own change. Workers need to be able to organize, negotiate with their employers about the terms and conditions in which they work. That’s why the role of trade unions is very important,” Berman of ETI shared during the book launch.
Chapter 3 provides a platform for the voices of the slaves to be heard. Here stories of people who are victims of human trafficking, forced, bonded and child labour are provided space.
Livia Firth, Oxfam Global Ambassador and Founder and Director of Eco-Age Ltd. emphasized during the launch that the importance of Safia’s book lies in the fact that it gave voice to the people trapped into slavery by fast fashion. “That was the part of the book I found the most moving and the most important because most of the time, these people do not come out and speak. Sometimes, they don’t even know that they are enslaved. Sometimes they are scared,” she said.
Chapter 4 delves into innovative tools and technological solutions that can put an end to slavery and unsustainable practices. Here, a few ethical companies are featured. Sree Santosh Garment Manufactory Company in Tiripur, India is showcased for being a “green company,” setting the trend for establishing environmentally-friendly practices and being in total control of its supply chain. Its partner, Continental Clothing, has also been given the spotlight for advocating fair payment of a living wage to its workers. In Bangladesh, the work of Swallows Development Society in Thanapara to provide jobs for women in the community and establish a school is presented. The work of Social Awareness and Voluntary Education (SAVE) in providing educational opportunities in villages around garment factories in Tirirupur, India and Freeset Bags & Apparel that provide work prospects for women trapped in sex work have also been highlighted.
Chapter 5 provides a ten-step toolkit on how to help eradicate slavery in the fashion industry. Each of the steps are simple and practical and can be easily followed by consumers.
The important lesson here, in the words of Geetie Singh-Watson of Riverford at the Duke of Cambridge is that “we have the power to change business, society and the planet through how we consume.”
For her part, Kate Louise of the Fairtrade Foundation noted that with “every individual choice. you can make a difference.”
Indeed, Safia’s latest book is a good wake up call to those whose minds have not yet been opened to the realities and impacts of fast fashion and unsustainable practices not just to the environment but to the people involved in the industry, most especially the workers who are in the lowest rung of the totem pole.
The strength of Safia’s book is not just in starting a discussion but in the presentation of a very practical set of solutions that when taken up even by just one person, has the power to turn into a revolution.
Grab your copy of Slave to Fashion and tell us what you think about it!