The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) is a U.N. initiative established in 2009 to supply “vulnerable artisans with market access and training,” the U.N. website says. The EFI “acts as a bridge, connecting marginalized artisan communities in challenging and remote locations with global lifestyle brands” so that artisans may access the international marketplace. The result is increased employment and income-generating opportunities in Africa and Central Asia. The EFI helps to establish purposeful employment opportunities under fair and safe working conditions so that disadvantaged artisans may rise out of poverty. Overall, the EFI works to promote “sustainable and ethical fashion practices” in the fashion industry.
Bringing Ethics and Sustainability to Fashion
The EFI is helping the fashion industry, often criticized for exploitation and unjust practices, to put ethics at the forefront of its business endeavors. EFI considers fashion ethical when the production of the garment takes into account the well-being of the people creating the garment, the environment and the final consumer.
Simone Cipriani, the chairperson of the U.N. Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, founded the EFI after recognizing the issues of exploitation, poverty and disempowerment that plague the people at the lowest levels of the fashion chains.
Industrie Africa says, “Globally, fashion employs approximately 60 million people, including enormous numbers of low-income workers in developing countries. This means that if mismanaged, it negatively impacts human rights — a tenet of the U.N.’s mandate — at a global scale.”
The Work of the EFI
In an interview with Industrie Africa, Cipriani says, “EFI offers a supply chain that enables designers and people from marginalized conditions — the majority of whom are women— especially from the continent to become permanent suppliers of the fashion industry.”
The EFI manages groups of artisans, with females accounting for 95% of these artisans. The artisans typically come from disadvantaged backgrounds and war-ravaged countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and Afghanistan. The artisans are typically “individual entrepreneurs looking for assistance, training or mentorship” who aspire to establish cooperatives and businesses and become social enterprise suppliers. The artisans would not have the opportunity to reach these aspirations without the support of the EFI.
Objectives and Goals
The Ethical Fashion Initiative has several objectives that fall under the overall goal of transforming the fashion industry into an ethical and sustainable sector. For instance, creating new jobs and opportunities for people and encouraging environmentally friendly production practices.
The EFI looks to uphold several U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): zero poverty, no gender inequality, “decent work and economic growth,” greater equality, “responsible consumption and production,” climate responsibility, “peace, justice and strong institutions” and engaging in partnerships.
Luxiders explains, “Through the social enterprise, artisans become suppliers of brands, and in this way, the Ethical Fashion Initiative coordinates the work of the artisans, enabling them to have their own company, profitability and negotiate terms and conditions with brands. The social enterprise then grows, accumulates profits and is able to offer credit, investment and other incentives to the cooperative’s artisans.” The EFI also provides training to artisans.
In this way, the EFI is able to align its activities to the criteria of the International Labour Organization (ILO), for instance, fair labor practices, just wages, a safe and healthy working environment and zero child labor/exploitation.
The EFI is engaging in partnerships and collaborations to become more visible at a global level. The latest collaboration is the Mother Nature’s Dream AW22/23 collection, made in Burkina Faso with the brand Laurenceairline. The partnership employed 26 local artisans, with women accounting for 41% of workers. The production utilized natural materials and all artisans received contracts and benefits.
Another recent collaboration is the Wales Bonner Spring Summer 23 collection, also made in Burkina Faso. Women accounted for 72% of the artisans working on this project. With the income from the projects, mothers can take care of themselves and their children.
Exploitative and unethical conditions in the fashion industry continue to stand as a human rights issue as the people from the poorest countries are the ones suffering. However, the Ethical Fashion Initiative is contributing to transforming the industry into a sustainable and just sector that supports the most marginalized people.
– Elena Luisetto
Photo: Wikipedia Commons