Interview with Abhishek Jani

Abhishek Jani
Abhishek Jani
Fairtrade India
Fairtrade India

One of the pegs of the movement has been transparency, with a Fashion Transparency Index being published last year? Don't you think a similar assessment in the Indian context has been grossly missing.

Couldn't agree with you more! I think we are reaching the point where the consumer engagement and concern is growing even in India and an Index would help consumers identify where brands are on their sustainability journey. The main roadblocks so far have been the lack of resources to get the experts engaged and the research undertaken; but we should look into this more systematically. 

The global Fashion Revolution movement has been successful in getting some of the mainstream brands to demonstrate greater supply chain transparency. Transparency is the starting point for initiating change and implementing a more systematic sustainability programme across the various operators that are involved in the complex textiles value chains. Fairtrade has been a natural ally for initiating this change in the fashion industry. Fairtrade emphasises the need for traceable supply chains and implementation of Fairtrade Standards for ensuring better social and environmental practices-from the farm to the factories. Fairtrade Standards promote better environmental practices at the farm level through better soil, water, waste and energy management requirements and better social practices which are not discriminatory or exploitative of vulnerable communities. Further, the Fairtrade standards also require cotton farmers be paid a Fairtrade Premium for their community development activities. At the factory level too Fairtrade Standards demand better social and environmental practices which ensure that workers are treated fairly and better environmental practices are also being fulfilled. 

So, we need a platform for supporting the companies and brands which are making the commitments and have embarked on the sustainability journey while at the same time shine a light on those which are either ignoring or side-lining this crucial need of the hour. 

Brings me to brands. Have Indian brands been taking Fashion Revolution seriously enough? Or, do you think it has been primarily a Western movement?

India has a diversity of production systems and brands. Some of the artisanal production-based brands have embraced the movement, and you can see that the social media is abuzz with these brands supporting the sustainable fashion movement. 

At Fairtrade India we are seeing a growing number of brands launch their Fair Fashion collections or committing to going 100 per cent Fairtrade for their entire collection. Further, the brands are embracing the concept of being more transparent about their supply chains and talking about the impact generated through Fairtrade and the Premium benefits to farmers on their social media platforms. 

So, though the sustainability movement in India is at a nascent stage, it is slowly and steadily being embraced by brands across the FMCG and fashion industries. Fairtrade India has been promoting systematic and holistic sustainability practices in India through our Fairtrade Certification and Standards, and has always focused on this being the only way production needs to be done. Our emphasis has always been on mainstreaming sustainable production and consumption (SDG 12). So, while the sustainability journey of the garment factories in India may have been started off to cater to the international markets where consumer engagement with sustainability has been historically more, we are definitely seeing traction in the Indian market as well. It's only a matter of time for the sustainability dialogue to be a part of the mainstream in India also. 

Sustainability (especially w.r.t fashion) is a lifestyle issue. Convincing governments and industry might be easier to do than bring about lifestyle changes among billions around the world. Your comments, please.

Sustainability is the urgent and critical requirement of the hour affecting everyone on the planet-though some (the marginal and the vulnerable communities) more than others. The need of the hour is not to work in silos or with selective stakeholders, but for all stakeholders to work on their own and to forge partnerships wherever possible to promote sustainability. This has also been recognised by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)-to which India is also a signatory-particularly SDG 17, which talks about building partnerships for achieving sustainable development goals. So, even in the context of sustainable fashion we need an inclusive and collaborative approach with all stakeholders doing their part. We need the governments to formulate and assess their regulatory paradigm and to fund and support sustainability initiatives (where catering to the externalities), industry to undertaken R&D and adopt continuously improving sustainability practices, consumers to demand and then vote with their wallets for more sustainable lifestyle choices and civil society organisations to work on the development agenda across the fashion value-chain.

In our case, the Show Your Label Campaign which is focussed on engaging Indian consumers, the initiative is built on partnerships with organisations like Fashion Revolution India and Green Stitched, schools like Vidya Shilp Bangalore and Universal School Ghatkopar, Brands like No Nasties, Soul Space, Hue Trap, Tuuda, Deivee and Aizome (with many more Fairtrade factories and businesses in their supply chain) and support from the European Union who have co-funded this engagement for promoting SDG 12- Sustainable Production and Consumption through the SWITCH ASIA programme. What motivates us the most is the support the campaign receives from Fairtrade farmer organisations like Rapar & Dhangadra Producer Company, Chetna Organic and Vasudha Organic as well as the textiles and garment factories in the fair fashion supply chains. So, you can see that sustainability initiative in India is vibrantly growing with engagement from a diverse set of stakeholders. 

Agenda-setting is important. How do you think you have fared on this front? I ask this because the movement seems to be geared more towards brands than governments. Very little can be binding on manufacturers or brands if governments are not brought into the picture.

While the Show Your Label Campaign in India and the Fashion Revolution movement globally is more a citizen's movement to tell brands that they want greater transparency and sustainability in their fashion. Governments across the world have also been taking note of the issues and initiating action- UK and Australia have passed the Modern Slavery Act, The Corporate Duty of Vigilance Act has been passed by the French government and in India the cabinet has approved The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill in 2018 to be introduced in the parliament shortly. 

Last year, Fairtrade pushed the sustainability agenda further in the fashion sector with the launch of the Fairtrade Textiles Standards. With the Textiles Standards, Fairtrade becomes the only system in the fashion industry which looks at the entire value chain from farm to garmenting including sub-contracting. In addition to requiring greater transparency via traceability, the standards are comprehensive in looking at greater environmental, social and economic sustainability. They also require continuous implementation of standards content on site with additional support and training by Fairtrade for implementing the better practices. Further, the standards are unique in requiring a fixed timeline for implementing a living wage for factory workers. 

Then again, do you think sustainability initiatives are sporadic / scattered all around the world? There is so much extraordinary work being done all over, after all.

Yes, the world over one can see that people's movements have started rather organically in response to issues which have moved them or provoked a response, but as the movements grow over time one can see greater alignment and setting of the collective agenda. I feel the Fashion Revolution movement is reaching that critical mass.

Last, do you think ecological degradation is taking place at a rate that is faster than that at which sustainability initiatives are able to cope with?

The alarming rate at which ecological degradation is taking place is a subject of grave concern to all of us living on this planet. I am still hopeful that the changes we are seeing today will pick up speed in the days ahead to not only stem but also reverse the degradation of our planet. People and organisations across the world are realising that if they don't change they are destroying their own future, and, in fact the impact is already visible and affecting us in different ways. Citizens' action are taking root in societies across the world-be it the Fashion Revolution movement or the Clean Versova Beach campaign. Governments and corporations are also treating the issues more seriously and initiating action-so, the hope is that we will wake up before it's too late.
Published on: 30/04/2018

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of

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