Where my clothes come from – No. 5

Noreen Niazi

“I worked for a short while in the wealth management industry so I have quite an extensive wardrobe. But I changed direction as I learned more about the impact of globalisation on communities around the world. I’d previously studied history and politics, and now I’m playing a more active role working from a faith-based perspective to challenge inequality and poverty.

The Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh was a key moment for me. The disaster was particularly significant for the Bangladeshi community around Whitechapel where I work; it could have been any one of our friends or family who died when the factory building collapsed. But it’s important that we all think about the way we buy clothes and the impact the garment industry has in other parts of the world.

I buy very few new clothes these days. In fact, I get most of my clothes from swaps and from thrift shops. One of my friends organises a regular clothes swap, so I can vary my outfits and catch up with friends at the same time.

If I do buy new clothes I choose from ethical brands.

It’s important to change culture around the way we buy clothes. We all have a responsibility, and I’m passionate about the role of education in harnessing the energy and creativity of young people to create positive change”.

Noreen Niazi
Photographer: Sue Phillips

Noreen Niazi is Education Manager with Muslim Action for Development & Environment (MADE), a charity which engages and supports young British Muslims in working towards a more just and sustainable world for everyone.

“Half of the world’s population – that’s three billion people – live in absolute poverty. A life of poverty denies people access to basic human rights such as freedom of speech, education, healthcare and the ability to earn a living. Far from moving towards equality, global injustice is rising.

At the same time, the planet is being destroyed by irresponsible and selfish living and it’s the world’s poorest who are first to feel the effects of the changing climate.

This challenge will take more than just our money. Our response is rooted in the Islamic traditions of social action, justice and environmental stewardship. It’s about being smart, ethical and green in the way we live”.

MADE’s campaigns include Every Garment has a Name which was started in 2013 following the collapse of the Rana Plaza Building in Bangladesh that year killing 1,135 people. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest exporter of ready-made garments, and the Rana Plaza building housed five garment factories supplying well-known global brands including Bonmarche, Matalan and Primark.

The aim of Every Garment has a Name is to raise awareness of appalling factory conditions in the global garment industry; encourage all of us to consider the human cost of cheap, fast fashion; and attempt to make companies take proper responsibility for conditions in the factories which supply them.

In May 2016 The Guardian reported that, despite high profile action plans by global brands, little progress has actually been made in the three years since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building. H&M are one of the global brands who rely heavily on cheap labour in south east Asia to supply cheap clothes. Although H&M weren’t associated with the five factories housed in the Rana Plaza building, the Clean Clothes Campaign released a report in 2016 suggesting that the majority of H&M’s supplier factories in Bangladesh likewise did not provide the safe working conditions taken for granted in the British workplace. One reason, perhaps, that they are able to sell clothes so cheaply. Despite this, H&M still manage to top the Ethical Consumer shopping guide to clothes shops on the high street. With H&M achieving only 8-9 out of a maximum score of 20 the high street clearly still has a long way to go.

Ethical Consumer magazine also offer a guide to alternative clothes shops. But, lacking the sheer scale of global high street brands, such shops may find it challenging to compete on cost, making it essential that consumers continue to lobby high street companies for fairer treatment of overseas garment workers.

Every Garment has a Name was relaunched in 2016 due to the lack of meaningful progress by global companies in improving safety conditions and wages. If you’d like to get involved, you can find more information about events and activities here: Every Garment has a Name.

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