Style + Human Rights

Today, more than 1,700 blogs in 124 countries are writing for Blog Action Day, uniting in a common purpose: to tell stories about human rights. I’m joining dozens of writers with Human Friendly Fashion Bloggers in order to shine a little light on the significance of human rights in fashion. Here’s to a better, brighter, fair and sustainable future – a day when every person will live freely and know the full expression of their human rights – A.


 Photo Credit: Joe Fresh at

While Canadians from coast to coast gathered with their friends and family over the long weekend to roast turkeys and be thankful, our media reported on the six month anniversary of the most devastating garment factory tragedy in history: the collapsed Rana Plaza building, in Bangladesh. Sadly, 1,129 people were senselessly killed and more than 2,500 were injured.

Video footage and pictures of Joe Fresh hang tags with their pink and red jeans among the Rana Plaza rubble disturbed many Canadians. How can we begin to understand how the cheap and cheerful clothes in our local Joe Fresh shop in our neighbourhood Loblaws Superstore could be involved in something so awful? It was sobering to discover that our fast fashion style is not only cheap and cheerful, but dangerous and deadly. Fashion is only beautiful if it’s fair and true style is transparent.

“…the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Six months after this senseless tragedy, what can be done? Complex global socio-economic issues need multi-faceted solutions and require shared responsibility. Starting with the factory manager, a man who is now imprisoned for forcibly threatening Rana Plaza garment workers with termination if they failed to return to their sewing machines that fateful day, even after the factory had been declared dangerous. Local business managers and owners are uniquely positioned to improve conditions and outcomes for garment workers. But they’re often squeezed by fashion brands to produce clothing quickly and cheaply. Local authorities need to evaluate and protect health and safety standards in their communities, ensuring that the safety of citizens is never compromised in the pursuit of economic growth. They cannot overlook manufacturing industry indiscretions, such as illegally adding additional floors to factory buildings that defy building codes.

Factory workers image

National governments, who can legislate in the interest of human rights, must work harder to protect their own citizens, especially vulnerable women and children in emerging economies. Governments can set fair and legal minimum wage standards and age requirements for employment, provide adequate access to public education, support labour union movements and more: all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our Canadian government should also take action to better support ethical and sustainable global trade and require Canadian companies to uphold human rights standards throughout their fragmented supply chains.

“…a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Brands like Joe Fresh, and all the 30 clothing retailers involved in Rana Plaza, need to pursue transparency and commit to ethical standards, without exception or compromise. The fact that they didn’t know the Rana Plaza building was unsafe is an inadequate excuse for their role in this tragedy. Fashion supply chains are increasingly fragmented, whereby a series of middlemen divide and outsource manufacturing contracts. It has made it difficult for brands to track and trace the production of their products. There would be a marginal cost, but a serious logistical commitment, for multi-national fashion brands to increase transparency in their production. They do have an opportunity to strengthen, rather than threaten garment worker’s rights. They can work with NGOs, governments, local authorities and the international manufacturing industry.

Consumers can help.  I don’t believe in boycotts. We can tell brands like Joe Fresh that we support worker safety and human rights and we don’t want cheap clothes that cost human lives. Boycotting ‘Made in Bangladesh’ would create problems even as we seek to solve them, by reducing the consumer market for the clothing they produce, unnecessarily threatening their livelihoods. Instead, let’s speak out. We can research brand practices and avoid consumer ignorance in our lives. We can discover more about where our clothes come from and how they’re made and why it matters. We can take action. We can make better choices, shop for ethical products where possible, invest in companies that care and push our politicians to stand up for ethical business at home and abroad. We can hold Canadian companies accountable for their actions and protect ourselves, as Canadian consumers, from participating in terrible tragedies. Let’s believe in the pursuit and protection of universal human rights.

“…All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood…” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Tags: , , , , ,

About the Author

Angela is founder and editor of Sasstainable, an insider voice on sustainable lifestyle and ethical luxury. She serves on the board of directors for Toronto Zooshare Biogas Co-operative. In 2013, she completed her MSc in Environmental Management at the University of London, at the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy. Her passion for the environment grew out of her family's rural property in Raglan, Ontario, now a designated Natural Heritage System area in the Ontario Greenbelt. In 2009, she was granted Ryerson University's Top 30 Under 30 Alumni award, because of her work as a motivational speaker, in partnership with Participant Media and Me to We. She inspired over 30,000 high school and university students across North America. She is a published writer, contributing articles to Geez Magazine, Eluxe Magazine and Feelgood Style, among others. She enjoys fashion, cooking, art and yoga. She currently lives in Toronto, Canada, with her daughter, Charlotte.

6 Enlightened Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Thanks for this post. I don’t agree in boycotts either – it will hurt local communities as well.

    • sasstainable says:

      Thank you Agatha – nice to hear from someone in Singapore! Amazing that so many people can unite in a common purpose online. I’ll be following your blog. Best, Angela

  2. Hi Angela I hope all is going well for you in Canada. A really thought provoking post, great to catch up with you on Blog Action Day to here about ethical fashion from a Canadian perspective.

    Ceri x

    • sasstainable says:

      Hi Ceri! Thank you. It’s so nice to hear from you. Missing ethical & sustainable fashion in London, but there’s some great stuff happening on this side of the pond. Stay in touch! 🙂 Angela

    • sasstainable says:

      Thank you Kendall. It was great to take part in such a global day of action. Thanks for your support! 🙂