Credit: Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg; Caritas Luxembourg

The Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg's Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has granted a second mandate to the non-profit organisations Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg and Caritas Luxembourg to lead the "Rethink your Clothes" campaign.

The campaign relaunched last Thursday, during a commemorative event to remember the 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. The majority of the 1,134 victims who died and 2,500 others who were injured in this structural failure accident were garment workers making clothes for Western fashion brands in the eight-story Rana Plaza building. The incident has become a symbol of the abuses of "fast fashion" and has triggered many initiatives around the world, much like the Rethink your Clothes campaign in Luxembourg.

Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg and Caritas Luxembourg noted that little has changed in the textile industry since the Rana Plaza collapse. Fast fashion, which remains the dominant business model today, is the source of many dysfunctions in the textile industry. Forced labour and child labour are still prevalent in the textile industry, especially in cotton harvesting and in the garment industry. The suicide rate is particularly high among cotton farmers in India who go into debt to cover the costs of their production and to meet market demand.

In addition, textile workers have been hit hard by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many retailers have cancelled their orders and even refused to pay for their productions, abandoning their workers and causing factories to close their doors. International brands have started to outsource their textile production to new countries like Ethiopia in the search for ever cheaper labour and less stringent social regulations. According to the Luxembourg NGOs, this illustrates the simple relocation of the systemic problems of the textile industry to new, already fragile countries.

With the Rethink your Clothes campaign, Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg and Caritas Luxembourg aim, on the one hand, to raise awareness of the social and environmental issues of the textile industry and, on the other hand, to contribute to the development and promotion of a sustainable and ethical textile sector in Luxembourg. More specifically, Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg will work towards educating and empowering consumers, businesses and public administrations on the impact of their purchases on the working and living conditions of cotton producers and workers in the textile industry. In 2018, the NGO worked with 45,576 smallholder cotton producers in eight producing countries in Africa and Asia. In order to amplify this positive impact, Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg wishes to continue to develop the offer of Fairtrade certified textile products on the local market. Today, no fewer than 25 players in Luxembourg offer Fairtrade certified clothing and accessories for both private customers and professionals.

For its part, Caritas Luxembourg is working to reduce the current overconsumption of fashion which has become "disposable". The figures speak for themselves: much of the 9.5 million tonnes of textiles that European Union (EU) citizens buy each year are thrown away before they are even worn. The NGOs emphasised that switching to circular fashion is imperative to safeguard the future of our planet and to break the rhythm of "buy, wear, throw away" which is also characteristic of textile consumption. To achieve this is fairly simple, according to the NGOs: by making our clothes last, by caring for them, by repairing them or even better, by transforming them with upcycling, or by giving them away or exchanging them. Another solution is to simply buy less or opt for second-hand clothes. To support consumers in Luxembourg in their path towards more responsible fashion, Caritas Luxembourg will soon open a space in Luxembourg city centre featuring sewing and upcycling workshops as well as exhibitions and the sale of sustainable and ethical fashion brands.

During last week's commemorative event, Luxembourg's Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Franz Fayot, stressed the importance of the mandate given to Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg and Caritas Luxembourg. He pointed out: “The impact of consumption on countries in the South is a subject that is close to my heart. Fair-trade textiles help improve the working conditions and therefore the living conditions of employees in this industry, mostly women. The "fair trade" clothing market is still quite small in Luxembourg and I am delighted with the "Rethink your Clothes" initiative, a catalyst project in the field".

The Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg and Caritas Luxembourg teams organised a series of public events last week to commemorate the Rana Plaza collapse, including a conference on the environmental impact of the textile industry, a second-hand market and a literary meeting with Laurent Gaudé, author of the report "Dacca, l'atelier du monde" (Dhaka, the world's workshop).

Additional information about the Rethink your Clothes campaign is available on the website, as well as on social media (@rethinkyourclothes).