It has not been a month of good publicity for the fashion industry. First, a factory supplying many major brands had one of the worst industrial accidents of all time, killing more than 1,000 people. Then, the industry was unable to come together on an agreement to ensure better safety regulations be put into place. Now, CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg has written a letter urging the designers themselves to pay better attention to what’s going on in the factories where their clothes are made.
Posted on the CFDA’s website, the letter reads:
MAY 20, 2013
A note from CFDA President, Diane von Furstenberg, regarding safety and fairness in the workplace:
To CFDA Members,
What happened in Bangladesh is a tragedy and a harsh reminder that it is our obligation as designers to make sure our factories are a safe place to work and that the workers are respected. At DVF we ask our suppliers and partners to follow the attached below “Code of Conduct” to emphasize our commitment to ethical and responsible business practices. I share our “Code” with you as a template in case you do not have one. I also encourage you to have your production team visit directly with your supplier partners to see firsthand the working conditions and treatment of workers. As I am sure you are aware, there are third party vendors who can audit and inspect for you as well. It is important to know who you work with and to ensure safety and fairness in the workplace.
Diane von Furstenberg, CFDA President
I don’t doubt that Diane von Furstenberg cares about this issue, and I’m glad she’s using her lofty position to raise awareness of it. But the ability of the fashion industry to regulate itself has been brought into question time and again, like when Marc Jacobs openly flouted his own association’s guidelines on how to treat his models during fashion week. And anyway, the vast majority of the clothing made in under-regulated factories is not the expensive couture of big name designers, but cheap, mass produced clothing destined for giant chains like Walmart, Target, H&M, etc.
Time and again, history has shown that there are two main sources of change in the material conditions of workers around the world: worker struggle, and government regulation, which is often a response to worker struggle. Consumer choice and public relations play a part as well. (How big a part is up for debate.) Corporations don’t generally spend millions of dollars just to be nice; that’s not what they’re set up to do. But if von Furstenberg’s letter ends up shaming even one producer of clothing into shaping up, it will have made the world a slightly better place.