The below is a guest post from Niccii Kugler, founder of ethical and sustainable online marketplace Nash + Banks.
In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed. Over 1000 were killed in the destruction, even though workers had been voicing their concerns over the building’s safety for weeks.
In the years following the Rana Plaza disaster, conditions did improve with the introduction of The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Despite these changes, however, inequality remains rife, with the European Parliament using the term “slave labour” to describe the current working conditions of garment workers in Asia.
How the fashion industry is interfering with human rights
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is a problematic one. And, although there have been many positive changes throughout the years, environmental issues and human rights abuses are still prevalent. The fact is that the majority of fashion retailers don’t own their manufacturing facilities. Subcontracting is incredibly common, making fashion supply chains a murky and complex labyrinth. Every twist and turn takes these brands further from accountability, and human rights violations are easily hidden from the public’s sight. Did you know:
- In countries like China, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, “minimum wage” actually represents between half to a fifth of the living wage.
- The International Labour Organisation states that of the 260 million children in employment worldwide, 170 million are engaged in child labour, and at least 6 million are in forced labour.
- In India and Bangladesh, the Fair Wear Foundation reports that at least 60% of garment factory workers experience harassment at work. However, this figure is likely to be underreported because of fear of retaliation.
- An estimated 27 million people working in the fashion industry suffer work-related diseases or illnesses each year.
The rise of ethical fashion
The advent of COVID-19 forced many of us to reconsider our priorities and think about what mattered most to us, and investing in ethical and sustainable fashion is something that many consumers are embracing.
However, the fact is that the operating practices of clothing manufacturers are shrouded in mystery. If consumers want to find out where their clothing comes from, how it’s made, and the social and environmental impacts of production, we need to spend hours digging into reports and data, poring through statistics and lengthy essays.
Luckily, there are resources that have done all the hard work for us – researching supply chains and certifications. With easy access to a plethora of information on the environmental and social implications of fashion, we’re seeing a global cultural shift when it comes to purchasing decisions as millennials and Gen Zs grow their stake of spending power. Ethical, sustainable, minimal waste and slow fashion are gaining momentum, and brands are starting to take note.
Riding the wave of change
These changes are starting to spill over into the mainstream with The Ethical Trading Initiative’s “Corporate Leadership on Modern Slavery” Report (which polled 61 global sourcing executives with a combined buying power of $100 billion) finding that 82% of companies believe that addressing human rights within their core business model is the most significant strategic indicator of corporate leadership on modern slavery. Meanwhile, 93% of companies highlighted that they have a responsibility not only to do everything in their power to address it but also to ensure that workers most affected are protected from further harm and compensated appropriately.
The fashion and textiles industry has, thus far, been slow to adapt and make the necessary changes to the status quo. But this all changed with the pandemic, which accelerated and magnified problems that already existed in the supply chain. With the advent of COVID-19, supply and demand levels were radically altered, while temporary trade restrictions and shortages highlighted weaknesses in production strategies. Multiple national lockdowns slowed and temporarily halted the flow of raw materials and finished goods. And, of course, numerous organisations suffered staff shortages and losses, which further impacted their operability.
As global supply chains abruptly and drastically changed in 2020, this mass disruption has accelerated the need for a genuinely systemic transformation towards a more sustainable model. Intentional or not, our existing reality has changed, and it’s paved the path for a new way of doing things.
About the expert
After the birth of her second child, Niccii Kugler found her awareness of the increasing cost of overconsumption became really heightened. Frustrated by a sense of helplessness, she started searching for brands that offered alternatives and discovered an inspiring community of change-makers, innovators and artisans all dedicated to rewriting our future.
However, the process of researching and vetting products and brands is time-consuming and when Niccii couldn’t find one lifestyle platform that offered her what she was looking for she decided to build it herself.
Curated online marketplace Nash + Banks was officially launched in 2018, providing conscious consumers with an easy way to discover and shop for brands and products that are committed to having a positive impact on people and the planet.
Image description: Niccii Kugler, founder of ethical and sustainable online marketplace Nash + Banks at home in Avalon Beach. Niccii is sitting on a wooden chair at her desk in front of a laptop. She is turning around and looking to the side. She has short, blonde hair and is wearing a sleeveless black outfit. There are photos and framed images on her walls, and a pot plant and guitar on either side of her desk.