DOLLARS AND SENSE: Fashion eco-campaigner Livia Firth is spearheading a new legal study aimed at targeting fast fashion’s “pile it high, sell it cheap” business model, in the hope of establishing a global standard on living wage for garment workers.
The study will be published in May and carried out by The Lawyers’ Circle, a network of female lawyers across diverse firms in the U.K., in partnership with the international pro bono legal program TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, a global alliance of organizations campaigning to promote and protect the fundamental rights of garment workers worldwide.
“Fast-fashion businesses have created this perfect system that’s practically based on exploitation and slave labor,” said Firth, the founder of Green Carpet Challenge and creative director of Eco-Age, the brand consultancy that focuses on sustainability.
“They can produce huge quantities of clothes in a year and make high profits, and this is only made possible by using labor that is very, very cheap. Otherwise, it is not possible,” Firth told WWD. “Basically, they are using the minimum wage set by the government [of the countries in which their production is based] as an excuse. So they will never be accountable for anything.”
Firth first made the announcement on Wednesday at the annual Trust Women Conference in London.
The study will examine the relevant labor laws and regulations in more than 20 countries including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, as well as their implementation and control mechanisms. There will then be a comparative study that will determine the possibility of the implementation of a transnational, global living wage.
Firth hopes that international lawyers can work with governments in the affected countries and work the findings into international law.
“Until there is a transnational agreement on wages and compliance procedures, these workers will always be enslaved by the brands,” she said. “There will always be the threat that if they don’t produce cheaply enough, these brands will go to another country.”
The study is only Firth’s latest move. Last month, she unveiled an edit of her top picks from the Marks & Spencer shop floor. Called the Livia Firth Edit, it features 25 pieces of clothing, already available at M&S, made from sustainably sourced wool, leather and suede from eco-tanneries, as well as cotton created according to BCI, or Better Cotton Initiative, standards.