The death toll from Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident has passed 1,000 as recovery teams continue to find more bodies in the wreckage.
…. so read the BBC’s news in May 2013. The collapse of the Rana Plasa garment factory in Bangladesh shook the world with images of the disaster broadcast around the globe. A spot light was focused, not on the high street or cat walk, but on the working conditions of the people who actually make our clothes. Those usually not considered -invisible to the consumer – were brought into focus through the mass media.
In response, Fashion Revolution was born; a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. The movement looks to encourage changes to the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that we can be confident that what we wear has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.
Five years on from the Rana Plaza disaster and things are changing. The Bangladesh Accord has seen over 200 brands in 20 countries sign up to this legally binding agreement between brands, retailers and trade unions – designed to build a safe and healthy environment for garment workers. Films such as The True Cost have been broadcast to raise awareness and inform consumers of the working conditions many garment workers suffer. Consumers are making more informed decisions about what they buy.
However we have a long way to go.
The Garment Worker Diaries highlight just some of the stories from around the 75 million garment workers worldwide – a majority of these people makes clothes for the global market and are still living in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitation; verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and dirty conditions, with very little pay.
Each year 150 billion items of clothing are delivered out of factories yet Americans alone throw away over 36 kg of clothing each year per person – a vast majority of this going to either a landfill or an incinerator. At the same time, traditional craft industries are being eroded, due in large part to mass manufacturing. Ancient techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation are being lost.
If that wasn’t bad enough, don’t forget that every piece of clothing also has a wider environmental impact. The chemicals used to grow, dye, launder and treat our clothes end up polluting land, rivers and oceans. A huge amount of water is used to produce garments through growing cotton, dyeing and laundering. In fact, it’s estimated that we need 1,800 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans.
With such demands, the global necessity for continued work towards change in the fashion industry is brought into focus through the Sustainable Development Goals. Just as the very fibers of our clothing are woven together, so too are the issues; from the female dominated workforce denied an education and fair pay, to garment factories working towards closed loop systems with zero waste, to those working in partnerships with artisans who deliver goods that are kind to both land and sea. Responsible consumption and production are needed.
With this in mind, last year I worked with Prof. Ian Cook (Exeter University) to further raise awareness of the issues Fashion Revolution work towards bringing into focus. We developed a free online course that we hoped would allow people to think through the journeys the clothes in their own wardrobes had made.
We were blown away when over 8,000 people signed up for our three week MOOC (mass online open course) which was supported by the FutureLearn platform. Working as a global learning community we supported participants to become clothes detectives and unearth the secret stories the fabrics from their wardrobes hold. As June 25th 2018 approaches we once again ready ourselves for the course to launch its second year.
As an educator, it is so exciting to work with a truly global class about real issues that have a real impact and can be taught at primary, secondary, further and higher education level. We hope you can join us on this year’s course.
Please sign up here or contact me if would like further information.
What people said about the 2017 course:
I have loved every second of this course! It was vastly different from most courses I have taken, both online and offline, because it was interactive on an emotional and intellectual level, instead of being a purely mental task and as a result I enjoyed it far more. I will recommend this course to absolutely anyone, it is incredibly supportive, thought-provoking and provides a fantastic atmosphere for learning.
I thoroughly enjoyed this course and want to thank everyone involved for presenting such an important subject in an engaging way. You left us with a lot to think about and I have planned how to take my pledge forward at work so it will go on having an impact past the course end date.
Thank you again, and good luck with the #class of 2018 when you repeat this programme.
Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Global and Sustainable Education