World Solidarity Campaign 2014: ’We want clean clothes’

Every year World Solidarity (WS) launches a campaign of solidarity with its partners in the South.

Last year World Solidarity, which is also a member of the Belgian Clean Clothes Platform, decided to focus its annual campaign on ’clean’ clothes. Under the heading ’We want clean clothes’ - meaning clothes produced in decent conditions – the emphasis of the campaign was on the demand that our clothes be produced in decent conditions, in which the millions of workers in the South can enjoy fundamental workers’ rights. The main demands concentrated on:
• safe and healthy working conditions in the garment factories (the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, with 1138 deaths, was still very much on people’s minds)
• a living wage for garment workers (and not just the local minimum wage)
• real freedom of association and organisation for trade-unions in the garment factories
• independent inspection of the working conditions in the supply chains of the brands.

With regards to the demand on independent inspection, World Solidarity put pressure on well-known Belgian clothing brands to join the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), a European multi-stakeholder initiative which helps brands to improve working conditions in their supply chain and which organises independent inspections. In the FWF both trade-unions and NGOs are involved. Hitherto only 4 Belgian brands had joined FWF, and just one of them was a (rather expensive) fashion brand. As a result of this campaign eventually one popular clothing brand (Bel&Bo, also produced in Bangladesh) decided to join FWF. Another popular brand, JBC who signed the Bangladesh Accord, will join in the near future. As a result of the media attention that was caused by Bel&Bo’s affiliation at FWF, two more Belgian clothing brands expressed their interest to begin negotiations with FWF.

As for all WSM campaigns, this campaign predominantly targeted the members of the Christian Workers’ Movement, of which it is part. The ‘we want clean clothes campaign’ was conducted with LBC, the Belgian trade union representing – amongst others – the retail workers. WSM and ACV provided a training for retail workers, focusing on the specific demands of the campaign. On April 24, 200 activists lighted 1138 candles, in remembrance of the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse. On the same day we called all brands producing at Rana Plaza to contribute to the Donor Trust Fund, to ensure all the families of victims and the survivors receive the compensation they require.

One of the aims of the campaign was to make people aware that they - as workers and consumers - can make a difference by expressing these demands to clothing brands and in shops. Clothing brands attach great importance to their ’public image’ and are therefore quite sensitive to the wishes of their customers. A special ’We want clean clothes’ website was set up, which presented aims and demands of this year’s campaign. Readers could buy a special ’clean clothes’ T-shirt, could design their own protest T-shirt and order a ’clean clothes’ shopping-bag. For teachers a special one-lesson teaching package was developed. 13.000 people - in only 3 months – signed the petition demanding clothes produced in ‘clean’ conditions.

But the work is not over yet. Even months after the end of the campaign, teachers, municipalities, consumers and journalists ask for more information about working conditions in garment factories. World Solidarity and ACV will, as members of the Belgian Clean Clothes Campaign Platform, keep on demanding better working conditions for garment workers, guided by their garment trade union partners in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Article provided by WSM