Young people have started to question how their clothes are made but consumers of all ages need to do more to tackle fashion labor abuses, according to a British lawmaker and sustainable fashion campaigner.
Baroness Lola Young said young people are increasingly engaged with political and economic issues and willing to fight on social causes – and labor abuses in the garment industry were no exception.
Young, a former actress who was made a life peer of Britain’s House of Lords in 2004, said harnessing this energy was vital to revolutionize the fashion industry which has come under pressure since more than 1,100 workers died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.
“A lot of young people are very concerned about a whole range of social justice issues and therefore are quite willing to go into the fray when they know what is going on,” said Young, who founded an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion.
Young said transforming consumer behavior in the West and changing the model of the “throwaway disposable society” is an important way to tackle labor abuses, particularly in the fast fashion sector.
Many big fashion brands have been criticized for failing to improve the conditions for workers in their global supply chains – from poor health and safety standards and long working hours to low pay and bans on forming trade unions.
She said while young people could often not afford more expensive clothing, she hoped exchange ventures at retailers such as Sweden’s H&M – where customers return old clothes for recycling in return for vouchers – could show a new way forward.
She said they are also getting more engaged even as many have concerns over a period of global instability.
“Paradoxically, what feels like current political volatility has made some people sit up and think: ‘What are we doing here? We’ve got to take more control over what’s happening in this world and fight some of these injustices much more openly,'” Young said in an interview.
She said different sectors of the fashion industry – from fast fashion to haute couture – had different challenges and will have to take different approaches to the problems.
Yet Young added that fully addressing the issues surrounding the supply chain was a “big ask” for the industry as “we need to look again fundamentally at how the garment industry works”.
“You really need to look at your business models because they’re not delivering this ethical industry that many of us would like to see,” said Young, who will be on a supply chain transparency panel at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit next month.
Young said while Western awareness of the issues has grown recently, many people still don’t think about where their clothes come from until their attention is drawn by a large-scale event such as the Rana Plaza disaster.
Young said one of most effective ways to tackle the problems would be to support organizations working on the ground to implement a effective monitoring system that would empower workers and enable them to fight for better conditions.
Yet she emphasized the urgency of tackling these issues.
“Time is running out in relation to the environment, time is running in terms of the dreadful impact that it’s having on various communities and individuals around the world. So you’ve got to get on and do something really really quickly,” she said.
By Ed Upright, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; c Thomson Reuters Foundation.