Slave to Fashion: can we create a fairer, more ethical fashion industry?

At the book launch of Safia Minney’s ‘Slave to Fashion’ my fashion purchasing choices were severely challenged, as were the unsustainable practices of our fashion industry, writes Louise Bateman.

I consider myself a green and ethical consumer; I live in a eco home, I purchase green energy, I don’t own a car, I consider the provenance of the food I buy, I’m a diligent recycler, etc, etc. But it was with a growing sense of unease I arrived at the book launch of Safia Minney’s ‘Slave to Fashion’ this week. Why? Because, as I opened the door of the Riverfood at the Duke of Cambridge in Islington where Safia Minney was launching her book highlighting the plight of millions of people trapped in modern slavery today due to our “fast fashion industry”, I knew I was complicit in that injustice.

Although modern slavery is illegal, in supply chains worldwide 21 million people are still victims of forced labour and there are still 168 million children in child labour – all of which generates a $150 billion profits illicitly annually.

“That is the system we are supporting by buying fast fashion without questioning,” Safia, founder and CEO of People Tree, a pioneering sustainable and Fair Trade fashion label, stated bluntly at the launch.

Fashion is the world’s third largest industry with an estimated worth of $3,000 billion. It directly employs 60 million people and millions more indirectly.

Safia’s book looks at its impact on workers and highlights some of the terrible personal stories of modern slavery.

It also looks at what’s been achieved so far through gains such as the UK’s Modern Slavery Act.

It challenges us to think and act differently as consumers, but also as workers. “We can learn from best practice in the companies that are leading the way in sustainable, fair business. We can help bring our own companies up to speed,” Safia writes in the foreword.

The book looks at the drivers of change – from law and technology to business, social enterprise, campaigning and media.

But crucially, for those consumers like myself, who are complicit in the modern slavery system, the book provides us with the tools and resources to enable us to effect change. And these range far and wide, from how to become an activist, to how to buy better on a budget to how to check how ethical and sustainable your favourites brands are.

I, for one, will be making good use of them.

To find out more about ‘Slave to Fashion’ go to www.safia-minney.com

Louise Bateman is head of marketing and communications at Planet First, creator and custodian of The Planet Mark™.

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