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Miki Alcalde

3 initiatives to improve fashion industry ethics


It took just 90 seconds for the Rana Plaza building complex in Dhaka, Bangaldesh to collapse in 2013, killing 1,134 garment workers and injuring 2,500 more.

So why did it take weeks for some brands to even realize that their clothing was being manufactured there?

Fashion supply chains are complex and murky, characterized by unauthorized subcontracting that involves companies working across many countries.

These supply chains have many layers, from procuring fibre and producing fabric, through manufacture and embellishment.

Many companies simply don’t know where their clothing is being made beyond the first tier, which is garment tailoring. This is a massive problem, because the lack of information makes it difficult to ensure that the human rights of workers and environmental laws are protected.

Here are three initiatives that could contribute towards making supply chains clearer:

1. Knowlabel

Knowlabel is a digital label that shows the human and environmental impact of what you are wearing.

Fashion retailers and brands use it to show consumers the story behind their products and directly link investment in their supply chains to sales.

When you are in a store, you just tap the Knowlabel digital label with your phone; you then discover the story behind products, including impact on people and the planet, and how to care for clothing in the most environmentally friendly way.

Marianne Hughes, the founder of this new and innovative start-up, explains that technology can help make the discovery of the stories behind your clothing exciting.

‘The typical argument that “people don’t care” is unfair,’ she argues. ‘I don’t believe people currently have the option to care, since they don’t have access to information on which to base their decisions.’

2. What3words

What3words is a mobile mapping app that gives a unique combination of just three words to identify a three metre by three metre square anywhere on the planet. There are 57 trillion such squares, each with a unique three-word address.

Not having a recognized address is frustrating and costly even in the rich world; in the developing world it can be life-threatening for individuals and limit a country’s growth.

A three-word address provides a way for anyone to talk about where they live. For some people, it will be the first time they can register themselves for health, financial or government services.

An address makes people visible to the state, and allows them to join the formal economy and exercise their rights.

In developing countries, an address means that a water point can be monitored and fixed, humanitarian aid can be requested, microfinance can be scaled up, local businesses can thrive, and hospitals and schools can be found.As Clare Jones, what3words’ Global Partnerships Director, explains: ‘With more accurate data, supply chains can become more transparent and service delivery can be improved. No-one who needs support cannot be found, whether they live in a slum, a favela or simply a remote, rural region.’

The cover of the book Slave to Fashion


This is an extract of Slave to Fashion.

The book is currently available at £9.99 (RRP £13.99) from the Ethical Shop

3. On our Radar

On our Radar is a small team of journalists, digital storytellers and development workers who are excited about the power of citizen-led information to spark change and inform action.

Every human deserves the right to speak up on the matters that affect their lives. Voices from communities can improve industry by offering insight and solutions that are not always obvious to decision-makers. Workers are experts in their own working environments but are rarely consulted.

Statistics reveal a concerning trend, but stories give the human context, which can be the additional fuel needed to nudge people from concern towards action. Stories can rebalance perceptions around data which might be confusing a local situation – for example, the presence of children on a factory floor may be confirmed by a head count and may lead to concerns around child labour, but gathering reports from mothers may reveal that children are joining them due to a lack of childcare and that their presence is tolerated rather than mandated.

This is an edited extract from Slave to Fashion by Safia Minney, a book published by New Internationalist.

On Our Radar and Fashion Revolution have collaborated with New Internationalist to create ‘The Lives Behind The Label’: a collection of intimate video stories of six garment workers in Bangladesh.


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