Sunday, 8 September 2013

Baroness Young of Hornseas' full speech at Ethical Fashion Source Summit

Baroness Young of Hornsey of the all-party committee on fashion gave a speech, criticised in the post below. The is in favour of clearer explanations by shopkeepers, collaboration in industry internationally, and compromise. The speech was to an organisation that claims to be a forum but selects speakers from big business and related consultants.

Baroness Young of Hornsey's speech to Ethical Fashion Source Summit, July 2013 [video times in minutes and seconds from the video below]

Oh Gosh!

No. It's so refreshing. I love coming to these events because it's so different to the house of lords, as some of you might guess! It's not known for its fashion sensibility. I've had some interesting adventures there as some of you might imagine. I have to share with you, although I am not going to name names, that a colleague of mine was told , first of all, that it was against the rules to wear cropped trousers. For a woman anyway - it didn't say anything about men.
And then she was reported to one of the highest authorities in that house of lords for being dressed "flamboyantly". In the bar! [11.19] So that's part of the context in which I work. So it's refreshing to be here. Although I have to say that I have been involved in arts and culture for many years.

Although, again I would say, though, that since I started working in the fashion sector. In this bit of the fashion sector, I hasten to add, I've found a really refreshing engagement with politics with a small "p". I think that comes naturally, as it were: if you are concerned about
-the environment; if you are concerned about
-workers' rights,
-all of these different issues, how can you not be political?
So after years of having worked in a sector that kind-of wanted to distance itself from politics, for me it's very refreshing and energising to work with a group of people for whom that - that, linked with the creativity and the innovation with is at the centre of what they do.

Now sustainability is a word that has so much currency in so many different ways, that it has started to become, I think, a bit devalued, and perhaps over-used and mis-used. When I introduced that into the terminology of my all party parliamentary group, there were some questions about it, particularly as it was linked to fashion. And I think that, even in the three of four years in which I have been involved in this sector and working with these campaigns, there has been a change, as Tamsin [the chair] has already indicated. But even: there has been a change within the House of Lords. Because the people there that I am working with have come to understand. So actually I have got an excellent group of people who are working with me on this issue. And they come from lots of different perspectives. And that's absolutely fine. They also come from different political parties which is really great, because it means we have a common understanding of some of the key issues that we are working with.

I just want to go back a little bit and say how I cam to be involved. I have always loved clothes and fashion ever since I was a kid, in the old days, when people would make their clothes from the bits of fabric that they would get in the remnant box in John Lewis in Oxford Street, run-up something on the machine (glue it together if there wasn't time) and then go out to a party. And of course, at that time, there wasn't High Street Fashion. There wasn't that sense that you were being driven by magazines of by celebrities to go out to these shops and buy-buy-buy, because the shops weren't there. All of that has changed. I think that, while there are some good aspects to that, it's actually becoming increasingly difficult to argue that that represents a democratisation of fashion, when other people are being oppressed, and indeed loosing their lives, because of that change. So there are a lot of issues here for us to think about, whether that's as consumers, as retailers, as makers, as designers, or as educators.

Interestingly, I think that fashion still has this sense of being something that is a little bit frivolous, and something that girleys do and are interested in, and so not very important. Or, that we are all pretty stupid and dumb, and we go-out and buy things because we've been told to do that. And of course in some respects, there is a little bit of truth in that, in the pressures that are put upon - particularly - young women to conform to certain ways of wearing clothes; certain ways of being in the world. But there is also so much that is to do with stereotyping and stigmatisation of certain groups in society.

I'm very much against the idea that there are a load of young people who all like sheep and go-out and do-stuff. However, I think I do want to make it clear that consumers do have a responsibility. And interestingly, I think that young people are at the heart of that sense of responsibilty. Of course, there will always be some who say "I don't care what happens to those people over there; those people mean nothing to me, and therefore I am going to shop the way I shop", whatever that is. But I think for the most part - certainly the young people I come across when I go out to schools to do talks or have young people in the houses of parliament to do talks, there is a very keen sense of responsibility [16'00'] but a lot of it is about not knowing what to do with it. Not knowing where to go. The questions I get asked most frequently are "OK: what clothes should I wear; where should I shop, what should I do?". And those are really difficult questions to which one has to answer: "it's very complex". And that, you know, is not an easy idea to get across: "it's very complex". What kind of a response is that? It feels like you are trying to sit on the fence and not say very much. [She doesn't say: "buy from democratic welfare states if you can".]

So one of the things I want to say is that: we have got to find new fresh ways of explaining ...
very succinctly and in a way that has real impact, to the market; to consumers, what it is that we are about and why it really matters what they buy, how they buy, where they buy it, and so-on.

I'm not going to replay the statistics to you. Although I've got this one about us all having about £30bn of clothes stashed-away in our wardrobes, and I sometimes think or feel that most of that £30bn is in my wardrobe! It has overtaken my bedroom, which looks like a teenage girls' at times. But, you know, it is a serious point. There are loads of these statistics - whether it is to do with the amount of water we use; the kinds of chemicals that we use in dry-cleaning. So all this work which we have to do about post-consumer waste and over-use of water and so-on and so-forth. So again this adds to the complexity and the number of messages that we need to get across to people.

"Those people": the reason I am emphasising consumers is that in a capitalist society, it is about making money. It is about a very kind of crude sense of what it takes for an organisation to make a profit. And that needs to be linked to a sense of Consumer Action, Consumer Urgency, and indeed there is a sense in which we need to think about throwing-out that word Consumer because it does imply a certain passivity which we would not want to encourage necessarily. So I think it is very important to think about what it is that we want people to do and to think about.

In February, earlier this year, I was in Copenhagen giving a presentation to Danish MPs on our all party parliamentary group, and explaining how we structure that, and how it works, and what we were meant to do. And again that was very instructive, because this is all about an international movement. It's not something we can do or think-of, only in terms of one particular country or one particular market. It is very much about how we can collaborate with people across the world. And I know that there's a lot of initiatives going-on as a result of what happened in Rana Plaza, which hopefully will gather even more momentum. [18'56"]

It was interesting: during the horse meat scandal, horse-meat-gate, I think people became more aware of the difficulties which lie behind and industry with a highly distributed supply chain. This idea that - you see people, even when we look very carefully at a packet of whatever it is. Burgers. And we see that it is £1 for 2 burgers. There is no connection in peoples' heads about what that actually means. And again in relation to the fashion industry, I sort of thought of our horse meat scandal as being something like Uzbekistan cotton, with all of the issues and problems around that. However, all of that was overtaken by the disaster that happened at Rana Plaza. Like many others, I would say "of course we do not want that to happen again", but the issue is, how do we do that? How do we stop that happening?

I think that. Well. You know this phrase "don't let the best be the enemy of the good". [20'00"]
Personally, I'm not into beating retailers about the head. I'm not into going to Primark and saying "you've got to do this", or "you've got to do that". I'm really interested in what sort of dialogues we can set-up. So one of the pieces of work, if you like, that the all-party parliamentary group does, is to be open to every discussion, to find out how the business works, and make suggestions about who to contact and who to work with, with a view to improving that situation.

I think that government - I've been pleasantly surprised, that after Rana Plaza, the government did call on major retailers and say "look: what are you going to do about this?". And fortunately Labour Behind the Label have produced the Accord, which a number of major retailers have signed-up to, and there are other initiatives which are going on elsewhere. And I wanted to - I don't want to take up too much more of your time because I know that you are running late, and there's lots more to get in, so I am just going to summarise what I was going to say, very quickly here.

In terms of what needs to happen next.

Well obviously, you are all here because you all feel very strongly about it. Part of what it is about getting the word out to more people.

And some of the proposals that are coming forth. I think that some of them are really good. But what we need to do is to try and formulate them into a kind of global strategy, if that is not much of a world domination type of speech! But it is about being strategic in what we do. Otherwise we will all be running-around, using lots of energy in what we do, and duplicating, and not being as effective as we might be [by letting Ethical Fashion Forum ignore human rights or the need for new tariff conditions against Bangladesh forcing Bangladesh to introduce a welfare state. She didn't say that].

So post Rana Plaza, the situation has changed. One would hope that it would be impossible for it not to change. So there is a momentum. It is up to us all to keep up the momentum, and as Tamsin has already said, "it can't happen again". But, you know, it is really easy to say that. [22'00'] But I don't, at the moment, without being particularly pessimistic, I can't have the confidence to say that there isn't another Rana Plaza waiting to happen, whether that is in Bangladesh or in India or in Burma, where new factories are being built to - kind-of - cope with the fallout from what has happened in Bangladesh. We can't be confident about that.

So that work which we have to do. We have to keep on doing it and we have to collaborate. I would be very much in favour of some kind of coalition being formed. [It has in the EU parliament. She didn't say that.] But that kind of thing has to be organic. It has to have people to drive it forward. But if it isn't to happen again; if there is anything we can do to stop that happening again, then obviously we need very much to be involved with that and make sure that we have some kind of global campaign that has clout, and nous, and intelligence, and is formed from all the different parts of the sector that we really like. Thank you.Baroness Young of Hornsea, All Party Committee Ethical Fashion, stooge

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