20 February 2018 is the United Nations’ “World Day of Social Justice”
This year’s theme is Workers on the Move: the Quest for Social Justice.
I started as a human rights activist, then became an ecologist and then realised that I needed to become a social entrepreneur to prove that business could be done differently. That business could be a cause for rights violations and it could also be a huge power for good.
That farmers and the makers of our clothes, shoes, food and social justice can be central to good business. With Fair Trade, citizens can promote social inclusion and environmental justice and hold large corporations accountable. Today, empower the workers by bringing the “ME TOO”, campaign awareness to include the rights of women who make up the bulk of our fashion workforce in the developing world.
When researching for my book, Slave to Fashion, I met with Elizabeth Khumallambam in Gurgaon, near Delhi. She is senior co-ordinator of Nari Shakti Manch, which campaigns and supports women migrant workers whose rights are violated.
‘We organize migrant women in the community and work at a political, economic and social level to address the problems they face,’ Elizabeth tells me. ‘They are exploited as they are totally unaware of their rights.
In the garment industry, they are badly paid and not given regular work. In their communities they are forced to buy groceries at a shop in the building where they rent a room at exorbitant prices. If they try to buy from cheaper shops, they get in trouble.’” read the full interview with Elizabeth Khumallambam, reference page 80-81, Slave to Fashion.
I am 32 years old and have two sons, aged 14 and 18. I started working in the garment industry seven years ago. I began in leather, cutting threads. When I made a mistake, my line manager stabbed me in the thigh with his pencil until it bled. I slapped him to defend myself, so they fired me. They tore up the paper which showed how many days I had worked and refused to pay me. I got a new job doing other piece-rate work, and now I am working as a tailor.
A lot of problems are due to the line managers: they try to find fault with our work. They told me, ‘If you start a relationship with me, I will overlook your mistakes.’ When I bent down to pick something up, they would make lewd comments:
‘I can see your body parts.’ They offered me money to have sexual relations with them. I feel humiliated, I feel ashamed to be a woman. I have children, I need to work. I wish I didn’t have to come to Delhi, but I have no choice. I work in a small factory now, as I was denied work with larger fashion factories because I publicly reported the harassment and was blacklisted from larger factories. I am in a desperate situation; I don’t have enough to eat; I have a big bill at the food-ration shop in my apartment block and I am obliged to buy provisions from there. Also, my husband left me and married another woman. For the last three months I have been unable to send money home for my sons, 24 hours away by train in Jacar. Why are women not looked at the same way as men? I come out of the house and I want the same status, but I am not treated equally. Don’t say that it is wrong for women to work. I have two children and I cannot pay my bills. I cannot raise my children without a job. Don’t be prejudiced against women, give us equality! I need a job with overtime for 12,000 rupees ($180) a month to survive. Extract Slave to Fashion.
Livia Firth, Creative Director & CEO of Eco-Age shares her message for World Day of Social Justice:
“Sustainable fashion is all about the people in the supply chain – what we call the handprint of fashion, is made by millions of invisible people working all over the world to produce the clothes that we wear. It is fundamental that they are treated with the same respect as we would treat ourselves and sadly today that is not the case. One only has to read Safia’s book Slave to Fashion to understand that a change is imperative”.
Sven Segal, Founder, Po-Zu:
“I started Po-Zu, the ethical footwear company, because I couldn’t stand seeing people suffering and wanted to be part of the solution, not part of a system built on social injustice”. (read more about ethical footwear at BetterShoes.org)
Social justice is possible when we remove barriers based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability. Find out more here:
Follow and support and celebrate #SocialJusticeDay on Safia’s social media here