Sometimes I read something and it gives me that light bulb moment feeling wherein a number of strands of thought come together in my head, as if at the hands of a skilled weaver who can take amorphous bits of thread and turn them into a beautiful tapestry.
Last Sunday’s Observer magazine had just such a piece, which featured a cover story on model Erin O’Connor visiting a home workers’ collective for women in Delhi and reporting on their ethical clothing workshops, described in the article as an “innovative and revolutionary ethical fashion experiment”.
By cutting out the middlemen, organising the skilled female home workers and dealing directly with UK and US-based retailers, to date the members of SEWA (aka the All India Federation of Self-Employed Women’s Associations) have (my use of bold):
“ … increased our home workers’ wages by nearly 100 per cent and enabled a lot of women to come out of their homes to a SEWA centre to collect their work and meet. Then they engage with other ideas, like microfinance or education for their children.”
So then I was reminded me of my trip to Bangalore last month, when, at the Confederation of Indian Industry’s workshop on mentoring, I found myself paired with a woman from M&S (my first question: “Are you wearing their clothes?” My second: “Can you get their food in India?” The answers were, respectively, YES and NO).
Her name was Jyotsna, which is a Sanskrit name meaning something like “By the light of the new moon” – isn’t that beautiful? She is in charge of supplier compliance for the south east Asia region and we had a fascinating chat about the challenges clothing manufacturers and retailers (she previously worked for GAP) face in countries such as India with regard to child labour – and the economic need for some communities to have all members of a family in paid employment. I’ve heard a bit about M&S’s Plan A campaign from friends who work for them, plus seen the branded marketing in the stores, but it was very real to hear about it from Jyotsna, particularly when we discussed the dilemmas she faces when she visits communities who actively want to have their children at work – a stance which is obviously in direct contravention to the M&S position on child labour.
There’s a quote from Erin O’Connor in the Observer piece which reminds us that when you –
“… see an embroidered top on the high street …. [it’s] … been made by a very determined pair of hands” –
– and the thought that, depending on the source of the garment, perhaps some of that very tiny, delicate embroidery might have been done by a child’s fingers is truly abhorrent.
The article’s reference to creating a greater need for children to be educated as part of generating an awareness of how to break a cycle of poverty and deprivation, also reminded me of this comment from Plan’s 2009 annual report, The State of the World’s Girls:
“Educated girls become educated mothers with increased livelihood prospects; they also have a greater propensity than similarly educated males to invest in children’s schooling.”
More on Plan’s work soon – oh, and my fundraising for their fantastic “Because I Am a Girl” campaign has now pushed past the £300 mark. Many thanks to everyone who’s donated to date and made such a difference. Some of the women mentioned in the Observer article now earn around £40 a month (compared to around a tenner, previously), just to put that £300 in context.