If you were to ask a random person what sustainable fashion is, they would most likely say, "fashion that aims to reduce environmental impact." After attending week 11 of the Fashion and Sustainability Summit The 2020 Series panel discussions—held by Fashiondex and LIM College—I concluded the common answer is incomplete; sustainable fashion goes beyond environmental considerations and into the human aspect.
On September 17, 2020, I observed “A Conversation on Social Compliance and Ensuring Ethical Practices in Fashion” with experts such as: President and CEO of WRAP, Avedis Seferian; Ethical Fashion Initiative UN’s Simone Cipriani; and Founder and CEO of Ethical & Sustainable Sourcing, Fatima Anwar.
- WRAP stands for “Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production.” It is a non-profit fully dedicated to “promoting safe, lawful, humane, and ethical manufacturing” and is the world’s largest independent factory-based certification program.
- Cipriani’s Ethical Fashion Initiative is a supply chain consisting of creative minds and developers from countries like in Africa and Afghanistan affected by conflict and poverty. He emphasized manufacturing generally happens in “extremely marginalized communities.” Thus, it is understandable that these workers risk being taken advantage of.
- Anwar’s organization encompasses disclosing companies’ ethical practices. She exposes that there is not as much information available regarding supply chains and manufacturing with compliance.
This topic needs to be in conversations more. Workers have just become numbers due to society’s hunger for the consumption of new, trendy clothing. These speakers gave examples of their efforts and urged continued actions that are needed to protect these humans.
WRAP ensures core principles such as “compliance with laws and workplace regulations”, and “prohibition of forced labor". Seferian and Anwar implored demystifying supply chains, meaning brands need to face their flaws to better the treatment of workers. Anwar, a Bangladesh native illustrated how the factory collapse in 2013, and so much global attention through the media, actually helped enforce better conditions and compliance.
Shifting mindsets to long term solutions rather than short term will benefit every party ethically and financially. Seferian notes this progression requires the right attitude, as factories and buyers look at compliance equating to higher costs, but should look at it as an investment. It is our job to become more aware of what goes on globally to see the harsh reality people who make our clothing face. Ensuring workers are protected means better healthy and safe conditions and the right to unionize if that is not the case; it means investing in more training and empowerment of business leaders to prioritize their workers over profits and ensure ethical practices within production. It's vital to transparency and inclusiveness within the sustainable fashion movement.