Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Global Day of Action

This Sunday, the 21st September 2014, people are coming together from across the world to demonstrate their commitment to climate justice. A Global Day of Action. 

A Day of Action because two days following, Heads of State will be meeting for a summit on the Climate. 

I wanted to write 'yet another summit' but being cynical about it, won't change anything or make me feel any better. Perhaps it was a good time to read this article calling for people to get to the march in New York. 

I am not going to go to New York, nor am I going to London. I shall be joining those in Birmingham. 

On the PeoplesClimate website, I liked the following

'We know that no single meeting or summit will “solve climate change” and in many ways this moment will not even really be about the summit. We want this moment to be about us – the people who are standing up in our communities, to organise, to build power, to confront the power of fossil fuels, and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world.'

I used to go on marches and actions a lot more than I do now. For health reasons recently I have not felt as confident but I am getting my confidence back. These marches or days of action changed me more than anything. They inspired me to keep going, to work together with others. I remember a vigil outside parliament during the vote on Trident and I had such an array of emotions; peace, powerful, powerlessness, frustration and hope among what I am sure were many more. At the end of the vigil I felt alive and refreshed, invigorated to do more. 

There is something about bearing witness in the place witness needs to be born. This Sunday, for me, that is in Birmingham. For you, that might be in London, or where you live? Perhaps you will engage online with others that way. 

In my mind, every day is a global action for day, we can change the world everyday through our interaction with others, through our choices and actions. Having said that I don't think it hurts to be a part of a global day of solidarity, to come together and to do something that says, here we are, bearing witness to our commitment to climate justice. That making changes in our own lives is vital but that being a part of a movement demanding systemic change is as vital. 

There are lots of websites that you can look at for more information about Sunday, here are a few

Quakers in Britain

Operation Noah

Friends of the Earth

Peoples Climate


Peace One Day


There is a shared statement from Quaker groups - Facing the Challenge of Climate Change

Thursday, 13 March 2014

There's more to a label than size and make - or is there?

Last week, I met Edwina at the event - Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the System - here she showed me her article on sustainability and the fashion industry. What follows, is a short introduction and then her article. 

I am a student of textiles at Norwich University of Arts and a Member of Bury St Edmunds Meeting. My work combines tradition with new technology, natural dyes with digital print, hand stitch with resist and foil. Sustainability is an important aspect of my practice and my inspiration is often the forest that surrounds my home. The dyes are extracted from the plants and trees and my drawings are developed into designs for digital print technology. The Kimono is proving to be a good context for my work and while respecting its history I have developed a range of designs which are intended for use as screens or hangings but can always be worn and enjoyed. My research for this degree investigated the ethical practice and sustainability of the Fashion Industry and part of the research was to write an article for Quakers about the importance of understanding what lies behind the label.

Edwina Hughes


The Clerk’s notes on the Canterbury Commitment asks individual Friends ‘to keep informed about the work being done locally, centrally and throughout the Quaker world and to educate themselves’  (Religious Society of Friends 2011)  ) about our commitment to conserve the earth’s resources and be responsible for one another. We have used the Sustainability Toolkit to learn, to evaluate and to take action so that our buildings, energy consumption, water usage, travel, product consumption and waste are low carbon and sustainable. There is practical information for the investment and use of our money but there are many everyday purchases where we do not have the information to make the best choice for the Earth. Clothing constitutes a regular purchase for many people. In most cases the label provides the main information but shows the brand, the size and possibly country of origin but little else. By being informed the label CAN tell us more!

Garment labels became the focus of the world’s attention after the Rana Plaza fire as they provided indisputable truth about the brands who were using this factory

The tragedy has forced apparel retailers and brands to take a closer look at how, and where, their products are made. There were discussions about making the label more informative but little action. The Ethical trading Initiative (ETI) were involved and this organisation aims to ensure that all products for the UK market meet international standards for ethical practice. Members include M&S, Monsoon, River Island and John Lewis and the full list of members can be accessed on their web site The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) set up in 2006 works in the same way but targets the fashion industry and provides a ‘Global Platform for a Sustainable Fashion Toolkit’ (Ethical fashion Forum 2012)  offering its members an in-depth evaluation of best practice to achieve sustainable fashion. The attention of the media often results in consumer pressure for ethical change.

Sustainability is an aspect of the fashion industry targeted by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) and there are 10 principals that members have to adhere to achieve full membership. WFTO does provide the customer with a search engine to access the list of members who have a ‘commitment to eradicate poverty through sustainable economic development’ (World Fair Trade Organisation 2013). The FAIRTRADE Mark is known for its guarantee of sustainability which means that clothing with this label (see fig 8) is made with 100% cotton grown and produced where ethical and sustainable development are the central focus of trade. Their research shows that in 2011 ‘7 in 10 UK households purchased a product carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark’ (Fair Trade Foundation 2012) and since the UK launch in 2005 the sale of garments rose to 20 million in 2011. This seems to indicate a growing awareness by the public of the importance of sustainability and there is a growing trend to make the Fair Trade label available on the High Street.

Fig 8 Fair Trade label

The People Tree label have developed their brand and have taken the ideals of the FAIRTRADE Mark a step further for the customer by developing the first supply chain for organic cotton from farm to final retail product. They have been working with Fair trade farmers to provide a ‘new kind of sustainable fashion’ (People Tree 2001) where the customer is guaranteed that all aspects of the garment have been produced sustainably not just the cotton. Recent initiatives have led to designers becoming involved resulting in People Tree labelled clothing being available in the High Street stores of Laura Ashley and the Oxford Street branch of Topshop. For the customer understanding the brand policy behind the product is crucial to recognising labels which offer sustainable clothing.

The results of the questionnaire (Appendix 2) into clothing showed that the most used purchase mode across all groups is the High Street stores. A majority of Quakers chose Marks & Spencer as their first choice. But High Street stores do not always offer background information about their garments as I found out when I visited some of the more popular shops. In Debenhams, Gap and River Island the staff did not know if their garments had been made ethically or anything about their policy on sustainability. In fact it was only the staff in Topshop who were able to show me their organic range, their Made in the UK range (see Fig 9) and were informative about their policy for ethical standards. This first hand approach takes time but there are other ways to discover retailers’ credibility.

Fig 9. Topshop Made in UK label

Organisations who evaluate the trading of retailers and make that information available to the customer can be found online. My research has enabled me to use these web sites and identify those large retailers who are working towards a supply chain where ethical practice is inherent and sustainability traceable from seed to product. Smaller traders who have these ideals inherent in their business often rely on an online trading. Many of them are listed on the web site of Style with Heart.  ‘While there are many companies on the high street working hard to catch up with the green and ethical agenda, the companies you will find listed here were created with strong values from their inception’ (Style with Heart 2014). One of the most impressive brands on the list, who opened their first shop in 2013, is Rapanui in Sandown, Isle of Wight. All their leisure clothing and products are 100% traceable in other words the customer can access detailed information from seed to manufacture to shop and the labels (see Fig 10) they use grade the garment from organic, ethical and sustainable through seven levels. But it does prove that online information is vital for informed shopping.

Fig 10 Rapanui label with grades

Labour behind the Label (LbL) is the most active organisation to address the level of ethical practice in the fashion industry. Their Annual Report Let’s Clean Up Fashion (Label behind the Label 2013) produced since 2006 looks at and identifies retailers who are working to improve ethical practice in their supply chains. They name brands such as Debenhams who declined to give any information, retailers George at Asda, Clarks, Debenhams, John Lewis, Laura Ashley and Sainsbury’s who ‘had not provided concrete information about any plans to address the living wage issue’ (Label behind the Label 2011) and Next, Monsoon and Marks & Spencer for their projects which do address working conditions in their supply chains. The report also recognise the improvements made by the retailer but overall they state that progress with all retailers has been slow. This Report is an interesting source of information for the customer who wants to know more about the ethical concerns of the High Street fashion retailers.

The lack of information available to the customer on most labels in the fashion industry must be addressed if we want to continue our quest to conserve the earth’s resources and be responsible for one another. At Made in a Free World they believe that ‘changing the world takes everyone … individuals, groups, and businesses working together to disrupt slavery and make freedom go viral; … to get slavery out of our system’ (Made in a Free World 2011). Ethical practice and sustainability is embedded in our Testimonies and continually referred to in Quaker Faith and Practice so buying from the fashion industry needs our attention. If the label does not help us to achieve this then the onus is on the individual to take action by educating ourselves, by making a choice where we shop and by understanding that there is more to a label than brand, size and make.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

UK Floods: This changes everything

This post comes from Tim Gee - a link to his regular blog is at the bottom of this post. 

UK Floods: This changes everything. 

This changes everything. Or at least it should. Perhaps it should have done long before, when the hurricane hit Haiti, or when a report revealed 400,000 people a year dying due to climate change, or even when the first major UK campaign on climate change kicked off back in 1989. But we don’t live in the world as it should be. If we did, the floods wouldn't be happening in the way they are, and our climate would be stabilising.

Nestled behind the temporary safety of the Thames Barrier, my house didn't flood last week. But reading the reports of the countryside underwater, my heart sank, turning to anger at the pictures of politicians in wellington boots, trying their best to look concerned in the midst of the problem they collectively failed to solve and contributed to creating. 

They say that when you drown your life flashes before your eyes. It may well be true, because even reading about the floods made 15 years of climate activism flash before mine. From the first inklings of environmental consciousness on the residents’ march against the second runway at Manchester Airport to the present fight against fracking. Every struggle has been about facing down different ills – noise, harm to nature, local pollution. But sitting above them all is the recognition that more dirty infrastructure leads to more climate change, which in turn leads to the kinds of extreme weather events we're beginning to see now. 

Of course, the pedants can argue that it's difficult to prove that this flood here was because of that pollution there. But that fact remains that the scientists have consistently warned that more climate change will lead to more extreme weather. It's a message we'll need to repeat again and again.

As the memories keep flooding back, most of all I'm taken back to a conversation with a stranger on a bus in Copenhagen on the final day of the 2009 climate talks there. My arm in a sling - having been beaten by a police officer the previous day – the stranger asked what we would do if the politicians failed to stop climate change and the effects got worse. It wasn't a question I'd considered before. I responded that we'd work for justice with the worst affected communities, to stop the effects from hitting them so hard, and keep working to stop the process of climate change intensifying. With the news this month - and especially the many unreported tragedies outside of the wealthy South East - it feels as though that time may now be up on us.

Like me, my grandfather was a lifetime activist, although his work was principally for peace. But when the world descended into war, he didn't just step aside. As many other Quakers did, he joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, committing to practical tending of casualties on the ground. Some pacifists were critical, calling it a process of clearing up the mess rather than tackling the causes, and even seeing it as counterproductive, as it involved liaising with various armies. But the experience served to strengthen - rather than water down – his pacifist convictions, and the project was a factor in the Quakers being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a few years later. Many commentators have called our current crisis a world war moment. If it is, then those of us skeptical of authoritarian solutions need to ask what a transformative response should be.

And that's why this changes everything, not for the media and politicians who will continue to focus on the concerns of the rich, but for us. It is clear that the onset of climate change even further demonstrates need for a radically different form of politics and economics, but it also suggests the need for us – the activists – to ask ourselves some difficult questions about how we get there: 

Some of us have learned how to work with our communities against site-based dirty infrastructure, but how do we work differently when the effects are dispersed? Some of us have learned how to block roads, but do we know how to unblock drains? Some of us have suffered at the hands of the police, but can we reach an understanding with the emergency services so that the maximum number of people can be helped? And reflecting on the emotional distress that most people encounter in the context of site-battles, how can we prepare ourselves inwardly – even spiritually - for situations still more intense? And perhaps most importantly of all, how can we work with people affected by extreme weather to stand against the process of climate change which is magnifying the scale of the weather events in the first place? 

These and more are questions we'll need to answer as a movement in the coming days and weeks. No doubt the weather will drop from the headlines at some point, but if the scientists are right - as they seem to have been so far – the climate has already begun to change. Perhaps it is time for us to do so too.

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