Wednesday, September 24, 2008

We are Eco-Warriors!

Going green might be old news in the fashion world, but it’s having an effect on high-end designers and British high street brands as we speak. More than a year after making headlines in the tabloids and broadsheets, Eco-Fashion is still a very hot topic.

Only recently, weekly glossy, Grazia, and monthly fashionista favourite, Elle, have dedicated full spreads to becoming Eco-Warriors, saving the earth one ethically (but fashionably) clad foot at a time. The question is, can you be ethical, yet fashionable at the same time?

The answer to this question is a definite yes! You only have to look to the runways of this season to see that it’s not only designers like Stella McCartney and Noir who have a conscience, even affordable brands like Topshop, Marks and Spencers, and H&M are going organic (and have been for some time).

Topshop have a fantastic Fairtrade range, as well as also selling vintage and recycled clothing (check out Peek-a-Boo and People Tree for some seriously fabulous items) that won’t dent your pocket!

It’s not only clothing that’s making headlines, Eco-fashion has now extended to bags, shoes, beauty and jewellery too, thanks to celeb inspirers like Bono’s wife, Ali Hewson and her cult brand, Edun.

And if you’re feeling particularly brave and ethically fashion forward, why not give Sainsbury’s new Eco range a try? With a launch later this year of clothing made purely from recycled plastic designed to feel like viscose and polyester you really will be doing your bit for Mother Earth!

by Gabi Muller

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ethical Fashion; Overview

What is ethical fashion, why is it important, and why are we just hearing about it now? Well, to answer these questions we start with what is wrong with clothing production today. Most clothing available in stores today is produced in an unethical manner using sweatshop and/or child labour to ensure a larger profit margin. Manufacturers use unsustainable fabrics like non-organic cotton (dubbed as natural, it accounts for almost 25% of all pesticide use) and polyester (which is a petroleum by-product). They use conventional dying practices which release chlorine, chromium, and other pollutants into the environment posing a health risk to the farmers, assemblers and wearers (7 of the top 15 pesticides used on conventional US cotton crops are “possible” to “known” human carcinogens). The shift to ethical production practices in the clothing industry has been undeniably important for a long time making the market ripe for a positive change. Consumers are starting to demand better.

What is Ethical Fashion?

Ethical fashion is that which is produced using: fairly-paid and fairly-treated adult workers; sustainable fabrics and materials like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and reclaimed or recycled materials; low-impact fiber-reactive dyes or vegetable dyes; respect for a healthy environment and/or product for the farmer, the assembler, and the wearer of the clothing.

Why Ethical Fashion?

We are all responsible for how our own lifestyles affect the environment. Simple measures can be taken to achieve big changes by simply switching our buying patterns to include products made of low impact materials. Positive pressure on businesses who have yet to volutarily clean up their acts is very easily applied by simply choosing not to spend money on their products, and helping – little by little – to grow the businesses who have made an explicit commitment to responsible business practice.

Why Now?

The wonderful thing about the booming ethical fashion industry is the huge variety of designs, colours, cuts, fabrics and sizes now available. Long stigmatized as cousin to the burlap sack, the ethical offerings today are design-oriented. Designers with heart are creating beautiful, sexy, edgy, classic, current, imaginative, and, yes, flattering pieces – ethics will simply not be compromised and thankfully neither will the look and feel of their work. Reducing our footprint can be done without making any sacrifices.

One of the main driving forces of the ethical fashion boom is public awareness. Thanks to exposés on large manufacturers, the fact that sweatshop labour is used for the overwhelming majority of production can no longer be ignored. The power of boycotting has been demonstrated, as has the power of voting with our dollars to support good practice. Thanks to accessible work like “An Inconvenient Truth”, the lay person is no longer free to assuage their environmental guilt with the denial of the existence of climate change. Thanks to alternative medical practitioners, who deal with cause instead of just symptom, we're learning that we can build health by surrounding ourselves with and consuming healthy things.

Consumers are growing weary of the quantity without quality mentality. Most designers with an ethical bent to their art, work in small batches, producing high quality goods with exceptional fabrics. Consumers are, in growing numbers, appreciating the right to vote with their dollars; and are exercising it to support expansion of the sustainable textile industry, small farmers and farm co-operatives. We're all looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact, increase our social contribution, ease our consciences, hold on to some creature comforts, and continue celebrating art in all its forms.

Article on Ethical Fashion

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Base Code Principles of Implementation

ETI has developed a code of labour practice - the 'Base Code' - reflecting the most relevant international standards with respect to labour practices which will be used as the basis of its work.

ETI member companies are expected to adopt this Base Code, or to adopt their own code so long as it incorporates the Base Code. The Base Code which is accompanied by a set of general principles concerning implementation, provides a foundation for ETI's philosophy of learning.

Principles of Implementation:

The purpose of ETI is to identify, develop and promote good practice with respect to implementing codes of labour practice.

Critical areas include monitoring and verification, and transparency and disclosure, to determine and communicate whether standards embodied in the code are being achieved. ETI members accept the following as general principles upon which to develop or refine their search for best practice.

1. Commitment
  • The company gives its membership of ETI, the code and its implementation process an informed and explicit endorsement.
  • This commitment is communicated throughout the company and to its suppliers and sub-contractors (including closely associated self- employed staff).
  • A member of senior management is assigned responsibility for the implementation of compliance with the code.
  • The code and the implementation process is integrated into the core business relationships and culture.
  • The company will ensure that human and financial resources are made available to enable it to meet its stated commitments.
2. Monitoring, independent verification, and reporting
  • Member companies accept the principle that the implementation of codes will be assessed through monitoring and independent verification; and that performance with regard to monitoring practice and implementation of codes will be reported annually.
  • Companies will engage with other members in the design, Implementation and analysis of pilot schemes to identify good practice in monitoring and independent verification and share this experience with other members.
  • Company members will draw on this experience in establishing where relevant with other ETI members' work plans to implement programmes of monitoring, independent verification, and reporting, and will report progress against these programmes to and through the ETI in a format and timing to be agreed.
  • Workers covered by the code shall be provided with a confidential means to report failure to observe the code and shall be otherwise protected in this respect.
3. Awareness raising and training
  • All relevant personnel are provided appropriate training and guidelines that will enable them to apply the code in their work.
  • Suppliers are made aware of the code, and the company's commitment to sourcing from suppliers who observe the standards in the code.
  • Workers whose work is covered by the code are, where possible, made aware of the code and implementation principles or procedures.
4. Corrective actions
  • Member companies commit themselves, on the basis of knowledge gained from monitoring to; (a) negotiate and implement agreed schedules for corrective actions with suppliers failing to observe the terms of the code, i.e. a continuous improvement approach; (b) require the immediate cessation of serious breaches of the code, and; (c) where serious breaches of the code persist, to terminate any business relationship with the supplier concerned.
5. Management procedures, pricing and incentives
  • Negotiations with suppliers shall take into account the costs of observing the code.
  • Understanding and implementation of company policy with respect to its code of labour practice shall constitute a positive performance measure when assessing appropriate personnel.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ethical Fashion, Rising

Attention fashionistas! There are now even more opportunities to be smartly dressed in every sense of the word. The Financial Times Weekend features a story about the proliferation of ethical fashion labels. ("Forget Black: Fashion's Going Green" by Dimi Gaidatzi, May 14/15, 2005). These are designers and catalogue retailers who are producing socially and ecologically sustainable clothing lines without compromising high design and style, thus blowing away (yet again) the old tradeoffs between performance, principles and in some cases price -- the exception being the burgeoning eco-lux brands, of course, which are priced beyond most mortals' means, but influencing the "influencers" is a clever tactic as celebrities, for better or worse, set standards.

The article mentions: Edun, the new range designed by U2's Bono and his wife Ali Hewson which is available at Selfridges in the UK, People Tree, veteran designer Katharine Hamnett, Romp Fashion, shoemaker Terraplana, United Nude, Sari, Nathalie Hambro, and Buba London, to name a few in Europe. (Also check out past WC posts mentioning fashion bags with green integrity and eco-designer Jenny McPherson.)

So long gone are the days when sporting eco-friendly threads just meant wearing ugly itchy hemp pants or recycled tire jackets! (Not that there is anything wrong with these per se but the market for these is small.) But seriously, this is a great example of how we can make sustainability work through better design across all parameters. Make something beautiful, make something unique, make something with a story and feel-good values behind it, and make it more accessible and user-friendly -- and you have the catalytic recipe for shifting a niche category into a mainstream phenomenon. (Whadda say shoppers we help this along!)

And sure enough "momentum is building" writes the FT, citing the first ethical fashion show last year in Paris and the socio-environmental Anti-Apathy campaign in London. New research and materials in fibers is producing dividends as well. This is a "long term change rather than some kind of trend."

What these offer are not just ways of curbing child labour or environmental damage, but ways of tackling sustainable development, ethical commerce, environmental performance and aesthetic innovation; all of these factors are a crucial part of their brand and design manifesto.

In other words, this is a veritable win-win that harnesses market and social forces. As David Bowie said, "the more we commodify things, the more we'll want hand-made things out of wood." Something deep is shifting in terms of what people really want, need and desire. We're getting a glimpse of this here. Now, it's time to apply ingenious superior design not just to the quality of consumption but the quantity too. More stuff is still more stuff.

Nicole-Anne Boyer


  1. There is no forced, bonded or involuntary prison labour.
  2. Workers are not required to lodge "deposits" or their identity papers with their employer and are free to leave their employer after reasonable notice.
  1. Workers, without distinction, have the right to join or form trade unions of their own choosing and to bargain collectively.
  2. The employer adopts an open attitude towards the activities of trade unions and their organisational activities.
  3. Workers representatives are not discriminated against and have access to carry out their representative functions in the workplace.
  4. Where the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is restricted under law, the employer facilitates, and does not hinder, the development of parallel means for independent and free association and bargaining.
  1. A safe and hygienic working environment shall be provided, bearing in mind the prevailing knowledge of the industry and of any specific hazards. Adequate steps shall be taken to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, associated with, or occurring in the course of work, by minimizing, so far as is reasonably practicable, the causes of hazards inherent in the working environment.
  2. Workers shall receive regular and recorded health and safety training, and such training shall be repeated for new or reassigned workers.
  3. Access to clean toilet facilities and to potable water, and, if appropriate, sanitary facilities for food storage shall be provided.
  4. Accommodation, where provided, shall be clean, safe, and meet the basic needs of the workers.
  5. The company observing the code shall assign responsibility for health and safety to a senior management representative.
  1. There shall be no new recruitment of child labour.
  2. Companies shall develop or participate in and contribute to policies and programmes which provide for the transition of any child found to be performing child labour to enable her or him to attend and remain in quality education until no longer a child; "child" and "child labour" being defined in the appendices.
  3. Children and young persons under 18 shall not be employed at night or in hazardous conditions.
  4. These policies and procedures shall conform to the provisions of the relevant ILO standards.
  1. Wages and benefits paid for a standard working week meet, at a minimum, national legal standards or industry benchmark standards, whichever is higher. In any event wages should always be enough to meet basic needs and to provide some discretionary income.
  2. All workers shall be provided with written and understandable Information about their employment conditions in respect to wages before they enter employment and about the particulars of their wages for the pay period concerned each time that they are paid.
  3. Deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure shall not be permitted nor shall any deductions from wages not provided for by national law be permitted without the expressed permission of the worker concerned. All disciplinary measures should be recorded.
  1. Working hours comply with national laws and benchmark industry standards, whichever affords greater protection.
  2. In any event, workers shall not on a regular basis be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week and shall be provided with at least one day off for every 7 day period on average. Overtime shall be voluntary, shall not exceed 12 hours per week, shall not be demanded on a regular basis and shall always be compensated at a premium rate.
  1. There is no discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, age, disability, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, union membership or political affiliation.
  1. To every extent possible work performed must be on the basis of recognised employment relationship established through national law and practice.
  2. Obligations to employees under labour or social security laws and regulations arising from the regular employment relationship shall not be avoided through the use of labour-only contracting, sub- contracting, or home-working arrangements, or through apprenticeship schemes where there is no real intent to impart skills or provide regular employment, nor shall any such obligations be avoided through the excessive use of fixed-term contracts of employment.
  1. Physical abuse or discipline, the threat of physical abuse, sexual or other harassment and verbal abuse or other forms of intimidation shall be prohibited.

The provisions of this code constitute minimum and not maximum standards, and this code should not be used to prevent companies from exceeding these standards. Companies applying this code are expected to comply with national and other applicable law and, where the provisions of law and this Base Code address the same subject, to apply that provision which affords the greater protection.

Note: We have made every effort to ensure that the translations of the ETI Base Code and Principles of Implementation are as complete and accurate as possible. However, please note that in both cases it is the English language documents which should be treated as the official versions.