Fashion Revolution 2023: A Call to Major Brands

April 28, 2023

Fashion Revolution 2023: A Call to Major Brands

A decade after the Rana Plaza disaster that sparked a worldwide fashion revolution, we have made some progress but are still fighting for equitable, accountable and transparent supply chains.

The movement has succeeded at raising awareness and understanding of the problems. But is fast fashion any closer to becoming more sustainable?

The fashion supply chain is one of the longest, most complex supply chains of any physical product. Where do we start in terms of making lasting improvements that protect worker rights?

The revolution started with an awareness campaign, and gradually developed discussions centering on transparency, respect, accountability, sustainability, cultural intellectual property rights, and artisan rights. Our understanding of what can be improved has grown, but the inner workings of supply chains remain largely a mystery to the average consumer.

Until we acknowledge the colonialist history which created and sustains the dichotomy of the Global North and Global South, I believe we will continually be at an impasse in our efforts to make a real, lasting, and Global, difference.

Our modern fashion supply chain, in simple terms, is a process by which powerful, wealthy brand X in the Global North places orders with manufacturer X in the Global South. The Global North holds all the power—economically and politically. The Global South provides an unempowered offshore labor force— a neo-colonialist dream, or nightmare, depending on which side of the equation you’re on.

Manufacturers working on narrow margins, lacking bargaining power and market access, find themselves desperately dependent on Brand X’s orders. Brand X, in the new colonialist structure, does not even need to supply an infrastructure to extract labor, as was necessary in the previous colonial age. Brand X needs only to give orders and can place nearly any type of demand on the manufacturer.

With growing awareness of the critical need for fair labor standards, Brand X may feel enough social pressure to work with an audited and compliant factory. But Band X typically does not contribute financial support or resources toward the factory’s efforts toward compliance.

To be clear, my discussion is not focused on the need for labor standards to be upheld by manufacturers. This is a given. The point here is to focus on the neglected responsibilities of Brand X in the Global North.

When Brand X reserves the right to set terms and force compliance without providing hand-in-hand support in terms of cash advances, infrastructure development, design, or systems management support, Brand X is not engaging in a respectful, accountable, equitable relationship with a supplier.

Too often in this movement, we focus on demanding compliance from manufacturers and demanding that brands work only with compliant manufacturers. We don’t rethink the underlying global dichotomy of colonialism that landed us here in the first place, and which still allows brands to be complicit in continuing to feed the imbalance.

If brands felt not only an obligation to use compliant manufacturers, but also a moral and legal obligation to work with manufacturers to achieve compliance, we would have a chance at solving the issue of worker rights.

As an executive director of an audited and guaranteed fair trade manufacturing company, I unfortunately do not see big brands taking these steps. We work with an international set of small and independent brands who do value a hand-in-hand, long term relationship with us. We work with brands who agree to our working terms, to paying a fifty percent deposit which enables us to purchase raw materials, and to building in longer lead times to account for weather related issues. We work with brands that do not cancel orders or penalize us if something outside our control happens.

We work with brands whose values match ours, and who act accordingly. We work on a model of mutual respect so that everyone’s business can grow.

Over the past fifteen years, I have received enquiries from several famous, large-scale brands. At first, I was excited by the possibility of receiving larger orders that could help grow our company. Many times, our team and I put in months of work developing prints, concepts, and samples, or preparing for audits, only to have the brand change their mind or make demands regarding costing or lead times that were impossible to meet. We have repeatedly lost money and valuable time in pursuit of big brand business, and I have stopped trying to work with these types of brands.

In all our dealings with clients, I advocate strongly on behalf of our workers. I invite clients to visit us, get to know us, and work hand-in-hand with us. Our employees earn a living wage, we meet all fair trade standards, and every single day we operate, we maintain our commitment to our workers to make on-time payments and provide fair working conditions.

What I would like to see is more brands of all sizes, across the globe commit to equitable working relationships with their manufacturers and stopping unfair, colonialist terms and conditions that make it virtually impossible for manufacturers in the Global South to keep their own commitments to their workers.

It is not possible to get something for nothing, yet that’s very close to how the neo colonialist fashion supply chain works.

Brands themselves hold the key to changing this. I am asking for major brands to step up and take responsibility and stop hiding harmful and penalizing terms with their manufacturers under the guise of being ‘ethical’.



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Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.

Do not use bleach or stain remover.

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Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.

Do not use bleach or stain remover.