Canada must do much more to promote responsible fashion and apparel

Diverse, complex and transnational groups are part of the movement, which is working to disrupt and challenge conventional fashion and apparel production, consumption and labour rights systems, as well as the environment. Canada’s government also committed to supporting change. Have they kept their promises?

My research is focused on RFA activism and work in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse. The concept of responsible fashion and apparel is simple: it takes a “do not harm” approach towards clothing. It asks for no compromises to be made in any aspect of the product’s lifetime.

Responsible fashion is more than just production. It also includes how clothing is used and what happens when the garment reaches its end of life. This includes issues of social, cultural, and political nature.

Canadians are motivated

Canadians were horrified that their association with such a terrible catastrophe could be linked to them. Diverse and diverse stakeholders responded by working together under intense public pressure to support Bangladeshi garment workers.

The collapsed Rana Plaza building. Savar, Bangladesh, 2015. Mary Hanlon CC-BY-NC-SA

Some focused their efforts on improving workplace standards and lobbying governments and companies. In contrast, others saw the collapse as a chance to change the way the fashion and apparel industries operate.

Others were already organizing within the network as organizers before the disaster. Examples include Maquila Solidarity Network and Fashion takes Action. Myriam laroche was inspired to create Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Week.

Eco Fashion Week was created to promote and support fashion and apparel that is responsible in Canada and around the world. The event provided designers with a critical platform to showcase their work. It also gave researchers, activists and businesses the opportunity to collaborate and promote research.

After eight years of a bi-annual, successful event, Laroche announced that she will be discontinuing the initiative as it is currently constituted. She was reportedly having trouble getting funding from the government or other sources.

Eco Fashion Week has been running for eight years and helped Canadians to make these connections. It also challenged companies to take responsibility for their social and ecological footprints.

Support for Human Rights by the Canadian Government

The Canadian government also has made a difference in Bangladesh by supporting the rights of garment workers. In January, the Canadian government announced that it had appointed an Ombudsperson of Responsible Enterprise who will ensure Canadian companies are respecting human rights abroad.

A couple wearing T-shirts calling for a cleaner and sustainable fashion industry at the Jobs, Justice and Climate Rally in Toronto in July 2015. (Shutterstock)

Since October 2013, Canada is working with the International Labour Organization, along with the governments of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom to implement an ILO program jointly funded by the two countries. The program is called “Improving Work Conditions in the Ready Made Garment Sector.”

In 2016, Canada joined the Compact. This is a joint initiative by the ILO, the European Commission, government of Bangladesh, and the United States, to improve the labour rights and building safety in Bangladesh.

While the federal government works to improve social and environmental issues associated with garment manufacturing in Bangladesh, the lack of support from the government for initiatives such as Eco Fashion Week indicates that responsible fashion and clothing is not on the agenda here.

It is a daunting task to support labour rights and ensure environmental safety in the fashion industry, which generates billions of dollars worldwide. But investing in RFA is necessary for Canada to make positive changes.

Lack of support from the government has led to the end of Eco Fashion Week, sending a powerful message to RFA workers all over Canada.

Canada must support local grassroots groups if it wants to make significant progress in improving garment manufacturing in Bangladesh and worker rights in Canadian companies. Eco Fashion Week and other events helped Canadians to understand the impact of their actions on workers.

In order to be a leader of global efforts to support RFA, Canada must also support local initiatives which connect fashion with politics, and focus on environmental concerns, cultural concerns, and workers’ right.

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