It's Not Just The Planet

It's her people too.

DUCFS model and activist Emily Brooks considers the way environmental and human rights issues are inextricably linked.

Although being a part of such an enormous project is enjoyable on a personal level, this year Durham University Charity Fashion Show means more than just the three nights for me. I have found the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) to be a charity that everybody who is a consumer of anything from fish to biscuits and from denim to soap ought to appreciate fully, whether you are attending the shows next year or not.

We are all (hopefully) aware of the impact of plastic and the importance of recycling, the repercussions of palm oil and what meat consumption and climate change is doing to the planet (apart from the occasional president who refuses to acknowledge its existence, but we won’t go into that here). Yet, despite our ever-growing conscientiousness and seemingly-mindful purchases, there remains a layer of these industries which we have overlooked. When we think about environmental issues, the abuse of human rights is something which far too often slips under the radar. But human rights and environmental issues are inextricably linked.

The Environmental Justice Foundation fights for the awareness and safety of people who live in deprived areas which are struck the hardest by the damage we have caused to our planet. It is these individuals that are affected the most by the jeans we buy, by the deforestation we fund, by the waste we produce. Citizens on the margins of society are the most vulnerable, the most disregarded and those with the least influence on matters which affect them the most. Human rights are being increasingly threatened every day and across the world, most often thousands of miles from our homes. We need only look at the success the Environmental Justice Foundation has had, 15 years on from its founding and with only 30 employees globally, to grasp just how important the organisation is to people less fortunate than ourselves.

A few examples:

Illegal fishing not only exhausts the ocean’s resources and is unsustainable; it involves a huge amount of human trafficking, most of all in Thailand. The EJF has made considerable investigations within recent years and discovered that 90% of workers on Thai fishing boats are migrants subject to slave labour to produce cheap work for these illegal fishing companies. But it doesn’t stop there.

The effect the clothing industry has on not only labourers in third world countries but also their living conditions was recently put in the spotlight by Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets (if you haven’t yet watched this I cannot recommend it enough). The devastating effects of cotton are exposed, which, and I speak for most people when I say this, is an issue we know far too little about. The rate at which clothes flew off the shelves on Black Friday is demonstrative of this. Cotton, which makes up 43% of all clothes purchased throughout the European Union (yes, that’s right, we’re still in it so that includes us) may not seem like a damaging material in the same way plastic or coal is. Yet, Stacey informs us that the making of one pair of jeans can require up to 15,000 litres of water. Once one of the biggest inland seas in the world and thriving with biodiversity, the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan has now completely disappeared due to nearby cotton plantations using this water for the factories. The 68,000 square meters of sea was once a source of both food and tourism, and now merely resembles a dry desert. And the impact of the clothing industry on the local environment is even more extensive than that. Thousands of these factories dispose of their unwanted chemicals into nearby rivers, contaminating the precious water of local people who rely on it to keep them alive. It is worth remembering that the chemical waste will have destroyed whatever wildlife once inhabited these rivers, too. With this in mind, next time you’re in Topshop, think twice about whether you need an eighth pair of jeans, and if you actually like that top and not buying it simply because it’s half price.

The third and final example will be brief. We’ve all seen the slightly politically controversial Iceland advert (if you haven’t, you’ve been living under a rock), but how can this effect people as well as orangutans? 80% of the world’s and animals and plants are found in its forests, which are disappearing at a terrifying rate at our expense (yes, the biscuits you gorge on and the soap you use). But there exist some people who rely on the forests we are eradicating, and who couldn’t live without the trees. With their fast disappearance, indigenous people like the people of Iñapari in Peru suffer longer periods of drought than ever and more intense rainy seasons. They need support and funding to constantly adapt to the changes they are having to face.

This year, Durham University Charity Fashion Show is working with the Environmental Justice Foundation to give these people a voice.

So, whether as individuals we are indirectly or directly, consciously or unconsciously causing such injustice, it is only right that we help solve it. I hope you will now agree that every penny spent on your ticket or donation is one step closer to a fairer world.

Emily Brooks