For me fashion has always been a feminist issue – not only because clothes can empower you, but also because the clothes we wear are most likely being sown and made by other women – so we carry their stories with us every single day.
This means that – as women, we have a huge responsibility to try and protect the women across the world who make our clothes.
Women should never let down other women and in fact we should ensure we do what we can to empower fellow womankind as much as we can.
This is why I have more respect than words can express for this year’s UN F4D honoree Annie Lennox.
She is a hard working, strong woman who has never been afraid to use her voice and take action for other women.
Annie is a Global Ambassador for UNAIDS, Oxfam, Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Campaign, Amnesty International, The British Red Cross, London as well as supporting numerous other organisations and being awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2011.
Most importantly – after years of traveling around the world to places like Mexico, Malawi and South Africa with many of these organisations and meeting millions of women, sitting in circles in villages across the globe – she came up with the idea of The Circle, an organization whose mission is to inspire and connect women – create an environment where women can come together: to share experiences, harness their skills, draw on their resources, influence and bring about lasting change. Ultimately to support some of the most disempowered women and girls in the world as they challenge the injustice of inequality.
This is how ONE woman gathered many other women – with the simple idea of women supporting each other no matter where we are in the world. Of creating this beautiful sisterhood – millions of hands holding each other, respecting each other.
Today The Circle is a growing impactful organization.
Which brought Annie here today. To fashion.
Why is fashion so important? Because every single day we get dressed and every single day a woman suffers in slavery conditions to produce the clothes we wear. As women – we should be ashamed of this.
Today Fast fashion companies generate vast revenues, with recent sums of £1,200,000,000,000 using a business model that turns around enormous quantities of cheap clothing produced with very short lead times by globally sourced cheap labour. A lot of this labour is made up of women living in your countries. Women like you – which I urge you, dear first ladies, to take care of.
Whilst some say that this could be seen as a source of female empowerment, the reality is that these women are easy targets for exploitation and discrimination.
They are typically concentrated in unskilled, low-paid, and often casual or informal work, including home-based work throughout the industry.
Is this what we want?
Within The Circle, is The Lawyers Circle – a collective of its members who work in the legal profession, including top Human Rights Lawyers. The Lawyers Circle are creating a report that sets out the legal argument for the living wage as a fundamental human right, the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right and the justification for the development of a global standard for a living wage.
With the assistance of lawyers in countries used by large scale retailers to supply workers, the report examines relevant labour laws and regulations as well as their implementation/control mechanisms to produce a comparative study.
The report will concentrate on three aspects:
- There are now strong grounds for arguing that countries which do not ensure that workers within their jurisdiction are paid a minimum living wage and legally protected from abuse and exploitation are acting unlawfully in international law and can be lawfully subjected to trade sanctions or restrictions on imports
- There is a need to develop proposals for minimum international standards that set a floor on the so-called “race to the bottom” (eg the ability of multinational companies quickly to move their production to the country which offers the cheapest possible production line)
- There is a need for governments to develop better legal protections and strengthen enforcement measurements for the protection of garment workers’ rights at work.
The report is scheduled to be published in November this year and none of this would have been possible without Annie, being the inspiration and founder of The Circle and bringing us all together.
I am so honoured to welcome on stage today the beautiful Annie Lennox – not matter how many times her songs made us dream, cry or dance. It is her incredible force as a real “global feminist”, a woman taking care of other women, which inspires us more than ever.