Dressing for victory: designers and activists unite to fight climate change at the UN talks

It was over a year ago that 20,000 climate scientists responded to the threat posed by climate change with “Run Run Run” a viral call to action for humanity to confront the threat from fossil fuels. More than 4 million people sent in their reflections of what they had “lucked into” in life.

No matter the location, climate action spoke to us all. Today, on a cold but beautiful November evening in Katowice, Poland, over 7,000 fashion designers, environmentalists, campaigners, eco-entrepreneurs, model and actor took a tiny fraction of that human energy and decided to chime in.

These designers and activists took part in the Big Fashion Statement, an organized collection of over 250 designers, models, environmentalists, activists and designers to wear codes of conduct directly from COP24 (the negotiating table). Fashion’s Big Statement features its own editorial, essays, film and other artistic expressions across a range of media. It has been received with huge passion and excitement in social media.

In addition to covering all of the talks at COP24 and the day-to-day negotiations, the Big Fashion Statement is highlighting seven key actions that will demonstrate our intent in Katowice.

The most pressing issue today is to affirm and eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies in relation to the content and production of clothing. This would mean eliminating more than $150bn in public support from policy-makers’ pockets each year. REDD+ holds the same potential to be transformative for the world’s fashion supply chain. If the goal of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies were achieved, a $1.25bn-to-$1.50bn per year gap would emerge, which could be covered by the labor costs of apparel manufacturing. So far, it is a very indirect benefit that neither retail nor fashion companies have acknowledged. The Big Fashion Statement supports one resolution for our existence.

The second resolution is to champion the right to work for people affected by illegal, exploitative and forced labour. An estimated one billion people suffer from working in conditions that jeopardize their physical and psychological health, their wages and their freedom. The Big Fashion Statement supports a call from the International Trade Union Confederation to end the modern slavery of child labour in our supply chains. Our fashion industry has the potential to play a leadership role that is affordable and socially accountable, with a powerful impact on those most affected.

The third resolution calls for an end to informal and substandard contract labour. If true and real working conditions are to be provided, this would cover all workers across industries, including textile, apparel, shoe, leather, ship-building, metals, concrete and other construction, as well as home decoration and storage, landscaping, sanitation, high-tech electronics, sporting goods, pharmaceutical and petrochemical factories. The Big Fashion Statement supports a resolution with a promise of employers who provide free time and reduced costs to workers for care of their children, sickness or disability. Finally, our fashion industry supports a resolution, with a plan for an enforceable financial guarantee mechanism for workers in the temporary work regime. We believe that once these technical problems are resolved, employment would become predictable, visible and convenient.

Some might think that we need a global summit to keep these problems in perspective. In fact, a summit of 500 is more accurate, as fashion is not just one industry. From 40 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, fashion professionals and activists were gathered from companies, designers, government officials, academics, NGOs, trade unions, NGOs, unions, skilled and unskilled workers, civil society groups, film-makers, the creative sector, celebrity designers, models, bloggers, actors, fashion students, students, members of parliament, high school and youth activists, and fashion students.

After three weeks of negotiations on climate finance, the US withdrew and China, the EU and the major emerging economies backed the COP’s final document. This is unacceptable. The fashion community has made it very clear that we won’t sit idly by while our industry is attacked. We had little to ask for but this.

To send the message that fashion will no longer accept climate inaction from its key stakeholders, the Big Fashion Statement will take place in Paris and New York (one fashion industry summit, one fashion city). Fashion’s Big Statement – Let’s Break Climate Silence’ will celebrate our commitment to climate change prevention and to collaboration with other sectors and other sectors’ diversity in action. The global fashion industry will stand together to seize our environmental responsibility and to demand political and economical change that addresses climate change.

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