FOUL PLAY IN GARMENT FACTORIES: You think Nike doesn’t exploit workers anymore? Think again. Germany may be repeat World Cup champions in football history, but shunning responsibility for your supply chain (again) can’t be a record you can be proud of.
1298 words; 6.5 min read.
Remember the controversy Nike was embroiled in in 1992? For those of us lucky enough to have grown up adoring Radiohead or banging our heads to Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic, we were also lucky to have been introduced to the term ‘sweatshops’, and in this case, there literally were dozens of them, in Indonesia, filled with human labour, mostly women, but also children, working under terrible conditions – making, moulding, and sewing your Nike runners into place. The thing is, since that time, bar increasing monitoring and auditing their factories, and notwithstanding efforts to clean up their image by publishing a detailed report of labour conditions in Nike factories (including publishing them), the problem never went away. It’s still there, but it comes in different variations, according to a recent report authored by Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and Éthique sur l’étiquette.
In matters of labour violations, responsible companies need to keep looking out for them in any situation or country at risk, be nimble enough to adjust their payment and employment model, and become part of the solution to ensure fair and equitable sharing of prosperity. Sounds like companies have been light-footed enough: apparently, Nike and Adidas have slowly moved most of their sourcing to Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam over the years (not just shoes, but clothing too), where wages are lower and labour abuses are rife.
The 2018 report by CCC and Éthique sur l’étiquette, a follow up report of the same content from two years ago, highlights that although Nike and Adidas are spending more money than ever on sponsorships and marketing, working conditions for the individuals that make their products remain shaky. For example, comparing the current production costs of Nike and Adidas sports shoes with those from 25 years ago, when the initial sweatshop scandal broke, the worker’s share of the price of each pair shoes sold has dropped by 30 percent.
"These businesses are quick to increase profits by shifting their manufacturing to lower-cost countries, but won’t share in any of that wealth with their workers".
Shifting to lower production hubs has been a trend for many sportswear companies at the back of continued increases in labour costs in China. However, these countries are reporting an increase in human rights violations and garment workers’ average salaries are between 45 percent and 65 percent below the living wage, leaving workers with largely insufficient funds to provide for their families’ basic needs, thereby trapping them in extreme poverty. For example, in Indonesia, where 80 percent of garment workers are women, most workers earn between 82 euros and 200 euros a month. This does not even cover the basic needs to live a decent life according to calculations from the Asia Floor Wage, who estimates a living wage to amount to 363 euros (570 AUS dollars, or 1,863 Malaysian ringgits.)
Due to this, the Clean Clothes Campaign has challenged sportswear and fitness labels like Nike and Adidas to ensure workers in their Asian supplier factories are paid a fair wage as their share of the production cost dwindles. Both Nike and Adidas are collectively kitting out 22 of the 32 teams going against each other at the 2018 Russian World Cup, which started last week.
The not-for-profit organisations are also calling on Nike and Adidas, and all sportswear brands, to create a time-bound roadmap with targets to guarantee the payment of a living wage earned in a standard working week, adopt more responsible purchasing practices to enable the payment of living wages and publish the actual monthly wages of the workers in its supplier factories, as well as the results of their social audits. In summary, they are urging Nike and Adidas to make good on their promises made to unions and civil society, as well as to the Indonesian government, made in 2011, to address job security and living wages.
Both Nike and Adidas have succeeded in yielding impressive growth for their shareholders over the past decade. These businesses are quick to increase profits by shifting their manufacturing to lower-cost countries, but won’t share in any of that wealth with their workers. Sounds like the term ‘slave labour’ just got redefined over time, but never really died.
"[Nike and Adidas] are, technically speaking, within a game’s reach to change the world for good. And what better way to do this than in the spirit of the multicultural camaraderie of the most celebrated international sport in the world?"
Anyone reckons some of the star football players are overpaid and overpriced? Well, you’re not wrong there, because even though both Nike and Adidas generate sufficient revenue to be able to pay living wages to all of their workers that stitch and sew, they chose to spend their money on football sponsorships instead.
Over the past few decades, Nike and Adidas budgets for marketing and sponsorships have doubled in value. In a record-breaking new contract, the German football team is set to receive 65 million euros (75 million USD; 102 million AUD) per year from Adidas until the next World Cup, which is three times as much they previously received under the previous contract which expires this year. The French national football team negotiated a deal for a 50.5 million euro sponsorship with sports giant Nike. Millions will cheer football players over the next few weeks, but the workers who make their team jerseys and football boots have been left on the sidelines.
And who can forget the lifetime sponsorship deal struck by Nike and Ronaldo, back in 2016? It's worth almost 1 billion USD. And that's only sportswear sponsorship, which doesn't include his other endorsements and earnings from football! On average, your Indonesian garment worker earns 210 USD (844 Malaysian ringgits) per month. Ronaldo: a staggering 7.75 million USD (31 million Malaysian ringgits – based on his earnings of 93 million USD in 2017.)
The next time you’re feeling excited about your favourite football team or player, perhaps be a little adventurous and highlight this unresolved issue with them. Write to the football team or footballer that you support (snail mail, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), and ask them to raise this issue with Nike or Adidas, or whichever company is sponsoring them. They are, technically speaking, within a game’s reach to change the world for good. And what better way to do this than in the spirit of the multicultural camaraderie of the most celebrated international sport in the world?
Personally, I’d love for our local clubs (district/university) to step up to the challenge. You don’t have to stop at celebrities, though. Have a chat with your coach at school about who makes your sportswear, and find a way to talk about it with your friends while enjoying some of the World Cup matches. Who knows, you could be a force of change for good, too.
All the best to the teams competing!
Clean Clothes Campaign brings together trade unions and NGOs covering a broad spectrum of perspectives and interests, such as women’s rights, consumer advocacy and poverty reduction. Read the report, Foul Play, here.
Join us in our Slow Fashion movement with the hashtag #ConscientiousFashionista and #wardrobetruths on Instagram, and follow us at @fashinfidelity.
Tags: #soccer #football #worldcup2018 #worldcup #russiaworldcup #nike #adidas #garmentworkers #foulplay #cleanclothescampaign #fairwages #conscientiousfashionista #fastfashion #slowfashion #ethicalfashion #ecofashion #sustainablefashion #greenfashion #sustainability #wardrobetruths #fashioneducation #fashionisnolongertrendy #fashion #saynotofastfashion #kualalumpur #australia #malaysia #russia
On the back of Monday’s ABC news story that Australian goat meat has tripled in value due a global meat shortage, it appears that Aussie farmers have seized this opportunity to get serious in the world trading of Angora goat fleece, or mohair.
1898 words; 9.5 min read
In true business panache, the Australian Mohair Company was recently set up to connect farmers and the fashion world, seeing that the questionable ethical ramifications of mulesing (Merino) sheep has been slowly hurting Australian wool producers.
A bit of a crash course on the demise of Australian wool (pun intended)
Australian Merino wool makes up 50% of all unprocessed wool produced in the country, and supplies 80% of all superfine (20 micron or finer) wool worldwide for apparel. It is an upscale wool product that markets itself as the high-end natural fibre of choice, on par with cashmere. (I shall touch on cashmere in another post.) However, wool production in Australia has been on a decline for the past two decades due to a multitude of reasons, since the collapse of the Reserve Pricing Scheme. The declining outlook on prices have been driven further by seasonally dry conditions, as well as using the sheep stock for meat, depending on market returns. The increased production of synthetic staple fibres such as polyester and viscose, as explained in this 2015 report by NSW Department of Primary Industries, is also a big factor in the decline of wool production in the world wool stage. It is important to mention Merino in mohair’s context, because it wasn't so long ago wool was one of Australia’s main export earners. Citizens once proudly proclaimed that 'Australia rode on the sheep's back.' The Woolmark was considered a source of great pride, and a Merino ram's head adorned the shilling coin. But in the period between January 1988 and February 1991 when the industry collapsed, sending woolgrowers bankrupt and putting heavy losses on textile firms overseas, it seems the industry has never recovered from the most harmful effect of all: Australia’s international reputation.
The unfortunate green blowfly problem
In the year 2004, the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), a wool research, development and marketing company, announced that its members would phase out mulesing by 2010. The move was taken after a heavy campaign by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to boycott Australian wool as they claim the practice is cruel and painful, and that more humane alternatives exist.
However, this target date has passed and till this day there is no clear indication of a renewed due date for the phasing out of mulesing.
Mulesing is the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent flystrike, a parasitic infestation of the body of a live mammal by fly larvae (maggots) that grow inside the host while feeding on its tissue, which can ultimately lead to the host’s death, within days, if not controlled and/or treated.
The industry itself has recognised that mulesing is painful for the animal, especially without pain relief or after surgery care. As recent as March 2018, there have been fresh calls from Europe and the USA for Australia to end mulesing as international markets are demanding non-mulesed wool. The buyers urged that Australia risked being left behind in the competition, as wool is no longer a dominant fibre in the textile industry.
Mulesing is prevalent in the Australian wool industry because the sheep stock are mostly highly wrinkled, and the Australian green blowfly can strike stock at any time, not just in the more encouraging conditions of the wetter, moister winter months prior to shearing season.
In the meantime, AWI has decided that (voluntary) application of anesthesia and pain relief while mulesing justifies the continuation of the practice, and is counting on year-on-year breeding research that focuses on flystrike resistance in wool sheep. Read up on AWI’s stance on mulesing on their website.
There are concerns the board members of AWI, the body that represents the wool industry, have conflicts of interests which explain why mulesing has not been phased out in Australia. New Zealand, in contrast, has phased out mulesing altogether.
"...in the period between January 1988 and February 1991 when the industry collapsed, sending woolgrowers bankrupt and putting heavy losses on textile firms overseas, it seems the industry has never recovered from the most harmful effect of all: Australia’s international reputation."
To clarify, mulesing is only but one of the preventative measures in the fight against flystrike in Australia. Suppliers of non-mulesed wool in Australia and around the world just don’t consider it as a standard husbandry practice. The Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group offers a summary of best-practice programs to manage flystrike here. Treatment options for woolgrowers once a blowfly strikes a sheep are also readily and commercially available.
Non-mulesed (Merino) wool exports from Australia has steadily been increasing, and these are normally sourced from ‘plain bodied’ merinos, which is a breed of sheep resulting from the research work conducted by Dr. Jim Watson some 15 years ago, a former CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) scientist.
PETA exposé on animal cruelty in South Africa
The ABC quoted that severe drought in South Africa, the biggest producer of goat products, was to blame on the global goat meat shortage, but could there be another reason this perennial savanna region is not so popular at the moment?
On May 3, news broke of H&M, Zara and other high street labels banning future mohair products after an animal cruelty investigation by PETA showed a film clip, allegedly obtained between January and February this year, of goats crying as they are forcibly shorn before being thrown across the floor by workers, while others have their throats slit or necks snapped by farm staff while fully conscious.
The ban on the Angora goat wool by major high-street retailers highlights how the fashion industry is gradually embracing veganism, and that the ethical relationship between ‘natural’ fabric and food goes hand in hand.
Can goats redeem Australia’s woolly reputation?
It’s the exact relationship that Australia mohair producers are trying to capitalise on.
Mohair is usually the silk-like natural yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat, perhaps one of the oldest textile fibres in use. The Angora goat is thought to originate from the mountains of Tibet, reaching Turkey in the 16th century. The English name of ‘mohair’, adopted sometime before 1570, has Arabic origins.
Australia is one of the key players in the mohair scene, producing 5% mix of the world’s supply, behind South Africa (80%) and USA.
Goats are never mulesed or tail-docked as these practices are not required. Goats do not have a long tail and the density of wool growing fibres is lower than found in Merino breeds. Dr. Bruce McGregor, who has researched wool, mohair and cashmere production for over 30 years, has been quoted as never having any goat suffer from breech strike in his work. In 2008, he suggested that producers who are considering leaving the wool industry given the problems with commodity wool prices and the uproar over mulesing, should consider mohair or cashmere production.
"Goats are never mulesed or tail-docked as these practices are not required."
Doesn’t sound like a terribly bad idea to me – until now. As outrage over animal cruelty is making more and more waves in the fashion world, as evidenced by Stella McCartney’s ‘Fur-Free-Fur’, the popularity of vegetarian leather, and innovations in ‘breathable’ fabrics, perhaps the industry can, one day, not look to an animal’s skin, coat, or fur as a raw material.
(Interestingly enough however, is the fact that Stella McCartney is opposed to using fur solely because it is supplied by animals farmed and harvested specifically for their coats, but still allows the use of wool and mohair in its range; collectively – ‘natural fibre’ – from select suppliers that meet certain commitments to animal welfare and environmental stewardship.)
As encouraging as the ABC News headline is for upping the ante on the production of Australian mohair and goat meat, the timing in the current climate of fashion may not be so great. Satiating the current meat shortage is nothing more than just practical economics, but I hope producers are treading this new-found success story with caution. Having said that, fashion may well go back to mohair once the industry cleans up itself, and we can still count on this amazing fibre as somewhat ethical yarn until mulesing Merino sheep gets sorted. Afterwards, the two may even go hand-in-hand – not a bad aspiration, in my humble opinion.
The key in the meantime is to be spared another PETA-led investigation – a fatal blow that will never see Australia’s wool reputation ever recover.
What’s ethical is up to you
I’ve always maintained and advocated that every single individual has a multifaceted view of what is ethical and sustainable with regards to their lifestyle choices, hence my belief in the introduction of a consistent, transparent, and easily digestible footprint labeling on clothes. This way, consumers, beyond the aesthetics and price point of a clothing item, can decide which of their own values align with the product’s ‘ingredients,’ to warrant making a purchase.
Wool is one of the most naturally technical materials in the world. It keeps you warm but it also breathes. It has antibacterial properties so it does not require frequent washing. It is naturally water repellent, meaning it doesn’t need to be finished with waterproofing chemicals, is fire resistant and is long-lasting.
"Wool can be judged to have an environmental upper hand over synthetics, as it is not derived from oil, and is therefore renewable. It is ‘biodegradable’, meaning that despite its durability it can return to Earth.."
Wool can be judged to have an environmental upper hand over synthetics, as it is not derived from oil, and is therefore renewable. It is ‘biodegradable’, meaning that despite its durability it can return to Earth (just not via landfills, please.) The sheep in Australia live outside on ‘extensive grassland terrain’, according to the industry, and they are useful for more than one purpose.
Notwithstanding all these ‘green’ credentials, livestock produce a lot of methane through the workings of their stomach, the biggest contributor to human-induced global warming. Plus, we need to feed them, using arable land that could be used for human food, and we use chemicals to transform grease wool into the beautiful silky yarn we recognize when we run our hands through Merino (or mohair), not to mention water and energy consumed in the process.
Does the story above make you favour the synthetic alternatives such as viscose, rayon, and polyester – or even vegetarian leather? Whether or not you are a meat-eater, we must be aware that all fabrics have an environmental impact. The majority of the impact associated with synthetic fibres is due to processing oil into yarn (so, so, many toxic chemicals, water, energy!)
Just a pro tip though: if you are buying wool, there is a way that you can look out for non-mulesed wool. The National Wool Declaration (NWD) is a voluntary scheme that identifies the Australian wool clip to buyers at auction. Here is a quick guide:
There is a third alternative – which is not to buy anything new. Something I’ve done this past 18 months, in support of the circularity movement and my version of sustainable fashion. But again, this option is not for everyone.
What are your thoughts on wool and mohair as a natural fabric and raw material for clothing? I’d love to hear from you.
Join us in our Slow Fashion movement with the hashtag #ConscientiousFashionista and
#wardrobetruths on Instagram, and follow us at @fashinfidelity.
Tags: #mulesing #wool #merino #mohair #sheep #goat #PETA #animalcruelty #conscientiousfashionista #fastfashion #slowfashion #ethicalfashion #ecofashion #sustainablefashion #greenfashion #sustainability #wardrobetruths #fashioneducation #fashionisnolongertrendy #fashion #wardrobetruths #saynotofastfashion #kualalumpur #australia #malaysia
This year India hosts World Environment Day (WED), which takes place on June 5, 2018.
“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, urges governments, industry, communities, and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health.
1896 words; 9 min read
Updated 2 October 2018
It’s also World Oceans Week (4-8 June) and the WED theme ties in very much with World Oceans Day, 8 June, who wants us to think about “Preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean.”
Best thing since sliced bread
Plastic has been a part of our daily lives because they are so durable. Which is great, but inversely, makes them a persistent force to be reckoned with in our environment, and more importantly our oceans – once discarded.
We’ve known for a while that bulk plastics are polluting the oceans. Converging sea currents are accumulating plastic waste in a floating island known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which now covers an area larger than Greenland. The bigger bits of plastic such as nets and water bottles are life-threatening to marine life and sea birds. They can strangle marine mammals or birds and build up in their stomachs and guts. And, if plastic pollution continues at the same rate that we are seeing now, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
More recently, awareness of microplastics has raised concern about their ever-present presence in the food chain.
Our oceans are under threat
Oceans cover 72% of the Earth, supply 70% of the oxygen we breathe, holds 97% of the planet’s water, and lock away 30% of carbon emissions. But it is apparent that our oceans are under threat and we need to move onto action on plastic – now.
Plastic makes up 10% of all of the waste we generate so it is only natural that a lot of individuals, organisations, communities and governments are finding ways to repurpose plastics into new materials and incorporate them into the raw material supply chain. Single-use plastic bags and water bottles that are PET (polyethyleneterephthalate) can now be used for so many purposes – turning them into fabric, hardened resin that become car parts, decking, and even furniture.
Seeing plastic floating in our oceans and littered on our beaches is not a pretty sight, either. With so much plastic rubbish around us, no wonder there are many clean up initiatives happening around the globe to rid our oceans of them.
Plastic for Fabric
One of the ways we can support #sustainable #fashion is to encourage the promotion of plastic as a raw material in clothing. Patagonia started making recycled polyester from plastic soda bottles in 1993 – the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to transform trash into fleece.
A breakdown of the process is described below:
A bit of trivia here: polyethylene terephthalate ester … shortened version? Polyester.
If you are serious about plastic’s impact on the planet and what you can do about it, you can start with supporting the continuous use of beyond its initial intended purpose. Below are some of the #changemakers in this space. Watch out for them and catch up on the latest technology by checking them out!
Manufacturers and suppliers of yarn and fabric
One of the ways we can support #sustainable #fashion is to encourage the promotion of plastic as a raw material in clothing.
Brands that take pride in their sustainable materials as a raw product
Organisations and communities that are working with the plastic problem and doing good things in general
Take action on plastic
In line with the ever-growing theme of reducing plastic pollution, the most important thing you can do to be part of the movement is to avoid single-use plastics at all costs.
In Malaysia, I find the use of single-use plastics is just rampant, for example – when you go to the night markets, you will easily accumulate ten small plastic bags that is supposed to carry each of your food items, and those food items are already placed in one-off plastic containers; most of them are not the recyclable type. The easiest thing you can do is carry a backpack or basket for your items, and try bring your own reusable containers for food and drink. People look at me funny when I bring my own plastic containers from home, but I don’t care. I carry my own reusable water bottle and coffee cup everywhere, so it’s just a natural extension.
You can say no to plastic straws, spoons and forks. I always have a reusable cutlery set in my bag, and as for the straws – just drink straight from the glass or bottle!
People look at me funny when I bring my own plastic containers from home, but I don’t care. I carry my own reusable water bottle and coffee cup everywhere, so it’s just a natural extension.
In terms of clothing, if you did find an item that is made from ‘reclaimed polyester yarn’, ask the fashion brand whether the yarn used was from 100% reclaimed plastic or has it been mixed with fresh plastics, too. Try to have a conversation about why and why not – sometimes products are limited by functionality and engineering. Still, challenge them with your desire to make a difference. Brands want to know if they’re doing enough – so don’t be shy on your feedback!
But will we ever get rid of plastic trash?
One of the things I get asked is whether #PlasticforFabric will take off in a really big way and then we’re left with no plastic waste in the ocean, or on land waiting to be recycled. The honest truth is, it’ll be a while yet until that happens. We haven’t cleaned up our oceans and land environments enough to start with.
Therefore, using the circularity model which I have mentioned in my earlier posts, re-purposing plastic as a raw material is one the best ways we can start to close the loop on waste. Yes, we firstly need to design out the waste in all of our supply chain applications, but at the end of the product’s life, once thrown away, there are ways where we can get them back into the top of the chain many times over.
Reclaiming plastic is not a new idea, by the way – we’ve been recycling hard and soft plastics such as used water pipes, ink cartridges, plastic film, and shopping bags, for years! – These have been re-born into office stationary, roadside kerbs, benches, food containers, jewellery, lamps, wheelie bins, and so much more!
Another thing to remember is plastic is made out of oil, a non-renewable resource. Now that we’ve already extracted that resource we may as well re-use it as much as we can.
Can you commit to doing one thing to avoid single-use plastics today? Good luck! And do you know of a brand or enterprise that is doing a lot in the reclaimed plastics space? I’d love to hear from you.
Join us in our Slow Fashion movement with the hashtag #ConscientiousFashionista and #wardrobetruths on Instagram, and follow us at @fashinfidelity.
Tags: #WED2018 #WorldEnvironmentDay #WorldOceansDay #conscientiousfashionista #fastfashion #slowfashion #ethicalfashion #ecofashion #sustainablefashion #greenfashion #sustainability #wardrobetruths #fashioneducation #fashionisnolongertrendy #fashion #wardrobetruths #saynotofastfashion #kualalumpur #Australia #Malaysia #PlasticforFabric