On Tuesday 17th of March the University of Nottingham’s Stop the Traffik Society organised a Clothes Swap event at the Atrium in Portland, where students were invited to trade in their used clothes for others: providing the perfect way to reinvent your wardrobe for free!
The success of the event was evidenced by the multitude of clothes piled on the stalls and hangers and the vast amounts of students it attracted. Impact Style dressed up two of Stop The Traffik’s members in some of our favourite finds of the day.
We also caught up with Stop the Traffik’s Emily Hunter to discuss the society’s latest venture and their bid to shed light on trafficking in the fashion industry.
What are you trying to raise awareness towards?
Broadly speaking, we are trying to raise awareness of the fact that whilst we may think that human trafficking and modern slavery has nothing to do with us, we all contribute to its success in our daily lives, and buying clothes is just one of these ways. Very few of us actually know where our clothes come from and what goes into making them. We focused on the Sumangali Scheme, which is a current scheme in which hundreds of thousands of women and girls are trafficked into and across Tamil Nadu to work in Cotton Mills. The scheme focuses on recruiting girls under 15 years of age, which is illegal in India. The girls are promised a lump sum to relieve their families’ financial burden, but less that 35% receive this lump sum, some receive less and some nothing. The girls are not given any health and safety equipment which often leads to stomach pains, (due to the cotton fibers that get into their bodies), severe ear pains and sometimes deafness due to the loudness of the machines, eye irritations and/or infection due to cotton particles that get into their eyes, breathing problems due to their constant breathing in of cotton fibres, cases of long hair getting caught and pulled into the machines, skin burns by hot machines, etc. Many of the girls are verbally, physically and sexually assaulted. If they fall ill they receive no medical assistance. They are forced to work overtime and are not given any breaks. Many sleep in hostels and due to the lack of space have to sleep on top of each other. This is just a brief summary of the conditions the girls are forced to work under. Many don’t consider the Sumangali Scheme a form of trafficking because the girls and/or their parents give their consent to work in the mills, yet they are not informed of the abuse or horrendous conditions awaiting them. We want people to know about this scheme and understand that this is just one of several like it.
Why did you decide to hold a clothes swap in particular and have you done anything like it before?
We’ve never done a clothes swap before but we chose to put on this kind of event as we felt that it would be something students would be interested in. As the clothes swap showed, we all have many items that we no longer want, and as students can’t afford to keep buying new clothes all the time. Hence, we felt this would be a good opportunity for students to re-vamp their wardrobes whilst getting rid of old items they no longer want. We also felt it would be a great opportunity to talk to students about the scheme and tell them how they can help, without creating a depressing atmosphere to do so. We wanted students to want to help rather than feel guilt-tripped into doing so.
What sort of changes do you want to see in the fashion industry and how do you aim to bring these about?
We want companies to take responsibility for where their clothes come from. As it stands, they are under no obligation to even know what is going on within their supply chain, let alone do anything about it. Therefore, many companies can honestly say they know nothing about trafficking or slavery being involved within the manufacturing of the clothes they sell. The only way trafficking schemes like the Sumangali Scheme will end is if companies start taking responsibility for where their clothes come from.
What can people do to help?
We believe that consumers have a powerful voice which they themselves often underestimate. Companies want to make a profit, and to do so they need to respond to the customers’ wants. Therefore, the more people who start asking companies to make an effort to see that trafficking and slavery is not used to make the clothes they sell, the more likely they are to listen and do something about it. We don’t want to encourage a negative message to achieve this goal or start boycotting clothing stores. We don’t expect people to stop shopping at their favourite stores, we want to encourage a positive message in which people make clear they love the stores that they shop at, but want to see this change happen. They can do this by taking in a postcard (which we were handing out during the swap) to the cashier the next time they go shopping, which basically asks companies to take responsibility for what goes on within their supply chain. All students need to do is sign these postcards and ask the cashier to pass them on to their manager or supervisor. Again, the more people that do this, the more we will be heard. So we ask students to do this and to encourage their friends and family members to do the same. If they would like any more postcards they can contact me (Emily Hunter) and I will make sure they get them.
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Images: Tara Bell