This post is part of the People’s Insights monthly briefs issue of January 2014.
In the 1990s, Nike became synonymous with sweatshops and labour exploitation. The brand spent a decade coming to terms with this perception and another decade on addressing the issue. In April 2013, the fashion industry faced similar accusations after the collapse of the Rana factory in Bangladesh killed a thousand workers and injured two thousand. Activists and the media revealed that a number of major American and European brands were manufactured in the Rana factory and demanded that the entire industry be held accountable for the state of the factories they work with. Political leaders and figures, including Pope Francis, have criticized the environment Bangladeshi textile workers are made to work in and the extreme low wages they are paid.
In a very short amount of time, activists, unions and NGOs mobilized people to protest and petition the brands involved to sign The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh – a five year legally binding agreement to fund and uphold minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh textile industry. 90,000 people signed the petition and less than a month after the collapse, 42 brands signed the agreement. Today, over 100 brands have signed the accord. In addition to the accord, activists are also now demanding that brands involved in the Rana factory collapse contribute to a $40 million compensation fund to be paid to the families of the victims.
Clamour for real accountability
Activists and the media are now targeting brands that have refused to sign the accord and to contribute to the compensation fund.
Seventeen American brands including refused to sign the accord, choosing instead to create the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety – a five-year plan that calls for ‘shared responsibility’ between the brands, the Bangladesh government and factory owners in funding the safety measures. Activists and unions have criticized this approach and have mobilized people to petition the brands to uphold their responsibility to workers and families of victims and ‘End their Deathtraps.’ The media have focused the debate around the issue of accountability.
Another brand to face the brunt of negative coverage is Mango. Mango refused to contribute to the compensation fund, alleging that they had only place an order for samples and had not yet entered a formal relationship with the factory. On December 31, 2013, Mango’s refusal to compensate victims’ families was featured on the front page of the New York Times print edition.
Following the textile industry calamities in the past years, two trends are emerging:
1) Fair Trade Clothing – Smaller clothing retailers, like Fair Indigo, are beginning to use Fair Trade Clothing as a differentiator. Fair Trade Clothing is also part of a wider Slow Fashion Movement, which calls for sustainable production of clothing, with respect to natural resources and wages.
2) Know Your Factory – Small clothing retailers, like Everlane, have begun to document the stories of the factories where their clothes come from. Nike offers a comprehensive interactive map of its factories following its crisis in the1990s. In May 2013, NPR launched and successfully crowdfunded a project to document the creation of its Planet Money T-shirts from the source of the cotton to the creation of the t-shirts in factories in Bangladesh and Columbia.
About People’s Insights
100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects – that are driving engagement with stakeholders – on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every month, we pick the best projects and analyse conversations around them, on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself and also on the broader social web, into an insights report. Every quarter, we compile original insights from the MSLGROUP global network into the People’s Insights Quarterly Magazine.
In our first year and half, we focused on inspiring consumer projects around social data, crowdsourcing, storytelling and citizenship. We synthesized the insights to provide foresights for business leaders and change-makers in the ten-part People’s Insights annual report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement, also available as a Kindle eBook and an iPad app.
In 2013, we launched “The Future of” series with a focus on Citizenship, Money and Employee (Re)Engagement. In 2014, we continue to track inspiring projects that are shaping the future of engagement, with a focus on reputation, employee engagement and citizenship.