Our trustee, Dominic McVey, speaks about fair fashion

Our trustee Dominic McVey recently spoke at Lancaster House about Fair Fashion in Africa and how fast fashion has impacted women's lives. We've included his speech here:

Ladies & Gentleman thank you for gathering here this evening to learn more about what Fair Fashion in Africa really means and what is required to achieve it. 

This afternoon I had the pleasure of hearing from some of the world’s most responsible brands such as Tesco and PVH, along with the amazing work that is being done by the IPPF, DFID and the UN Foundation amongst others.

When I proposed today’s events to the Secretary of State and Robyn Russell of the UN Foundation I had no idea we would get such an amazing group of business, government and NGO’s all talking about the goals of the Fair Fashion Pact and recognizing the need for one.  My sincere thanks to all of you for attending and being part of a group that is determined to get things right.

Rest assured I am not here to perform a Hollywood style movie speech.  But to share with you the reality that was reaffirmed today and reminded everyone that despite best efforts there is more to be done to ensure fashion is fair for all.

The world’s largest industrial parks with a focus on the garment industry have been built in East Africa with productivity in mind, but they have not entirely been built with people in mind.

Almost 50 % of women have been subject to gender-based violence, an unimaginable lack of basic clinical services, high levels of anemia and lack of nutrition, inadequate housing or protections from crime.  With the added tragedy of the highest rates of maternal death in the world and dropout rates from schools once girls reach menstrual age at almost 85%. 

Society is blessed with the most exciting continent of Africa, and we are all fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be part of the next industrial revolution with Ethiopia and Kenya likely to become some of the world’s largest producers of garments.

But before we get carried away we must reflect and learn from what has been done right in the past and where society and business have failed the most vulnerable in other parts of the world and not repeat it in Africa.

Despite how conscious you are about what clothes you buy or wear, the fact remains there is a high probability that garments you have bought even recently have resulted in detriment to a person or to the environment.  

As we are at such an early stage in the garment sectors growth in the region, we have the amazing opportunity to ensure that we all get it right once and for all.

We have to make certain that communities and in particular the women that work in the factories are given the help, health services and support they need.  Had Hela not built a creche in Kenya, women with children would not make it to work, excluded from the job opportunities created.  Ultimately the mother would not have the finance to give her son or daughter an education, and the cycle of poverty continues.  Hela would have been seen as selective, created discontent in the communities and not received the support and ultimately success it has today.

In Ethiopia, had we not worked with victims of rape, provided them with training and counselling services, enabled them to get back into society, we would have women dying on the streets whilst international brands meters away would be shipping their goods to the richest in the world.  To not go beyond compliance is unacceptable and to not get it right from the start in this day and age is to me, incomparable.

But what are we really talking about in the context of Africa and how do we create an environment of beyond compliance from the start and fair fashion for all.

Well the truth is we already know what is right, we know we have to go beyond compliance and we all know that if we do not bring our best practices to countries like Kenya and Ethiopia the loss of life that we see in other countries has therefore ultimately gone over our heads and we as humans being have failed more people by not doing things right from the start.  Furthermore, there is an abundance of tools and organizations that demonstrate investing in people and communities’ yields results and is sensible economics. 

Nevertheless, I am not suggesting work has not already been done.  Many of you in this room are already actively working hard to make sure things are right from the start, however many of you are not involved and as interested parties whether manufacturers, retailers, NGOs or government we are somewhat disconnected. BUT and most importantly we all agree that this is our opportunity to positively impact hundreds of thousands of people NOW, and ensure we are not here in 5 years time convening meetings to unravel disasters and bad habits.  Collectively work needs to start today.

This is a call to action.  I call on you all to form under the umbrella of the African fair Fashion Pact  to unite for a common goal to ensure best practice is brought to the region, to ensure women can work without fear of sexual violence or harassment, to ensure environment is not destroyed and the rivers do not run red with the dye from tanneries, that workers have access to sexual health services, that the children of the workforce are supported, that people have food in their stomachs and are not hungry.  That women have access to sanitary pads or counselling services.  I want to make sure that as an industry we work with partners to do good.  Because doing good is good business and it is the right thing to do.  

Ultimately the behaviour of companies that fail their employees is never hidden for long. consumers spend with those who share their values and rest assured the spending power and change in habits is already hitting brands hard