22 minutes | Jul 29th 2019

Fast fashion and football: a question of ethics

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In Episode 7 of Series 4, Todd talks with Baroness Lola Young of Hornsey, a cross bench member of the House of Lords currently working to amend the Modern Slavery Act and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion

00.00 -  01.57

As a member of the House of Lords Baroness Young became interested in ethical fashion due partly to her own lack of knowledge about the fashion industry but also the need to focus on the issue of modern slavery in the fashion industry, and the need to make politicians “sit up and take notice”. 

1.57 – 11.09

There is a suggestion that people need to be more aware of where their clothes come from, how they are made and what is happening in the supply chains.

  • First seeds sown by the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh which raised awareness of the possible links between fast, throwaway fashion and elements of modern slavery

But Baroness Young says this requires:

  • Moving public attitudes away from notions of cheap throw-away fashion
  • Changing business models in the industry; the example cited is the Zara business model 

Demand in the fashion industry is volatile. Zara is set up to respond rapidly to surges and changes in demand, which is why it is so successful. It operates a system of real-time delivery but that often means sub-contracting out production to meet very short deadlines, but with decreasing control over the impact on the supply chain and its implications for forced overtime.

Some companies have a supply chain involving 10,000 suppliers.  

Fashion trends are constantly changing so there is constant pressure on suppliers to meet very tight production deadlines, which has additional ramifications for the labour force and human rights. 

11.09 – 13.00

As a member of the House of Lords Baroness Young believes she is in a good position to influence policy making in the following ways:

  • As a member of parliament she finds it relatively easy to build a rapport with companies to develop dialogue and to help them improve their internal policies towards meeting the conditions of the modern slavery act
  • She has access to government and through that influence on policy making
  • Her work on cross party groups is also influential through the collection of evidence and the publication of reports

13.00 -  14.20

Emphasis placed on the systematic and rigorous collection of evidence rather than reliance on the anecdotal, for example the work of The Rights Lab, and Todd adds:

  • Evidence is hard to collect
  • Victims are hard to find
  • Practices are difficult to observe

However, advances in science and technology are now being used in evidence collection.Todd mentions Rights Lab work using satellites to detect modern slavery

 14.20 – end

The discussion shifts to consider how sport and modern slavery intersect. Baroness Young finds that there is little realisation within the business of sport of how it can impact on human rights.

One of the roles of the All Party Parliamentary Group is to encourage sports organisations to recognise the existence of human rights issues within supply chains to include equality, discrimination, modern slavery and trafficking. Baroness Young notes that:

  • Large sports organisations are notable by their absence at conferences on modern slavery
  • The modern slavery statements of Premier League football clubs are "inadequate" 
  • Football clubs do not have statements on attaining SDG goal 8.7

Todd adds that there is a wide range of activity to investigate. Anecdotally, many branches of sport have human rights issues but hard evidence is in short supply. These include:

  • The manufacture of the football kit
  • The manufacture of the footballs, memorabilia and so on
  • The recruitment of the athletes
  • The Construction of the stadia 

All of these involve large and complex supply chains, which are very difficult to monitor.

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