If you were pressed, would you admit to being a fashion victim? Have a think: how many clothes have you bought in the past week, month or year? You might secretly admit to being a fashion victim because you buy clothes you don’t necessarily need but you just can’t live without…
But do you know who made the clothes you are wearing?
It is a little known fact that over 200,000 young women and girls are trafficked to work in the cotton industry in the Tamil Nadu region of India. Thousands of European and North American brands and retailers regularly source their clothes from Tamil Nadua in India, for a total value of around 80 million Euros. This means that trafficked women and girls might have made the clothes you and I are wearing – clothes bought from well-known high street retailers.
Think you’re a fashion victim? Think again.
These are the real fashion victims: the women and girls who spin and weave the clothes that we find in our favourite clothing retailers, branded with our favourite clothing labels.
Women and girls as young as 14 are trafficked into The Sumangali Scheme, which operates under the guise of an ‘apprenticeship opportunity’. Registered as apprentices, instead of as workers, they work for 12 hours a day (the legal limit is 8 hours) and are often required to do up to 4 hours of overtime – for no additional pay.
We believe everyone involved in the making of our clothes should have the right to a healthy and safe working environment – and we think that you have the right to know where your cotton comes from. Speaking to Voice of Russia, our CEO Ruth Dearnley said, “The responsibility is on the retailers, they need to be accountable for the profits they are making. Responsibility is also on us. I want to be able to put on clothes that are traffik free. Those girls today are connected in our global family to what I’m wearing.”
“Our supply chains mean that when I put my clothes on in the morning, I’m connected to that 14-year-old girl,” says Dearnley. “I may never see her but she is providing the cotton and weaving and spinning it.”
We have been to India and met some of the girls who experienced the scheme. They asked us for one thing: to go and tell people what is going on, and to stop the scheme. We promised them we would.
We want to end the Sumangali scheme and end Make Fashion Traffik-Free, but in order to achieve this, we need you! Change only happens when we work together.
As consumers, together we have a very powerful voice. Together we can change the fashion industry. Most people think that the way they shop isn’t going to do anything – but it does. As a valued customer at your favourite brand or retailer, your voice matters. Next time you are out shopping, take a signed Make Fashion Traffik-Free postcard into your favourite high street retailer urging them to take action. Together we can Make Fashion Traffik-Free.
You can follow the debate on Twitter by using the hash-tag #fashionvictim. Read the rest of Ruth’s interview with Voice of Russia here: UK fashion retailers urged to scrutinise supply chains to curb trafficking.