5 years making fashion a force for good: interview with The Freedom Fund

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“Our north star is to see a sector where people have decent and fair work, where they’re treated with dignity across the sector. A world where brands take responsibility for the decisions they make and the pressures they place down through the supply chain. To be able to create a marketplace of fashion that is fair, ethical and lifts workers up rather than use them as instruments of harm”, says Amol Mehra, Managing Director at The Freedom Fund without batting an eyelid, when asked what their ambition was.

His colleague Ginny Baumann, Senior Program Manager who oversees projects in India, agrees wholeheartedly. She says, “The work we do in partnership with C&A Foundation, in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, is looking to do just that. Our focus is on how we can transform the entire sector so there is no child or forced labour as a fundamental way of doing business in the apparel and textile industries. And we’re doing that by being the necessary linchpin and driving a united strategy that involves industry, policymakers, enforcement systems and communities.”

We sat down with Amol and Ginny to have a conversation about The Freedom Fund’s mission, the impact of their projects with C&A Foundation in India and what moves and drives them to do this work every day.

The power of partnerships and collaboration to fix the industry

The programme in Jaipur, Rajasthan is focused on eliminating child labour in the local apparel and handicrafts industry. It is distinctive in urging the state government to take strident action to curb human trafficking and has been successful in driving large-scale awareness efforts through multi-stakeholder outreach that have led to incentivising local businesses to be child-labour free.

In Tamil Nadu, the programme focuses on affected girls and young women working in spinning mills and power looms, the part of the supply chain found to have a higher level of bonded labour than others. Once again, we learn that the programme’s success lies in its ability to connect various stakeholders and partners and bring them together in a single mission to end bonded labour.

 “Our partnership with C&A Foundation has been about leveraging our collective strengths to solve a shared problem. In this case, a shared analysis of the skewed power relationships whithin the industry and then building, together, a new model that creates underlying conditions for fair and decent work." - Ginny Baumann, Senior Programme Manager, The Freedom Fund.”

Amol reflects on the power of partnerships and collaborations to drive systemic change. He says, “We view the partnership with C&A Foundation as a collaboration to shift a sector and share a joint commitment to the strategy of shifting leverage points at the sector at large. This means joining C&A Foundation in its global efforts to influence various brand and industry associations and looking more broadly at what can be improved in the supply chain of the apparel sector on issues such as transparency and purchasing practices. By using our learnings from the frontline communities, we’re able to inform global policy change and better shape the conversation with brands on what they ought to do better.”

Connecting the industry to drive collective impact

Amol and Ginny complement each other’s efforts at two ends of the movement’s spectrum, both deeply passionate about the organisation’s mission to end modern slavery.

Ginny speaks about the impact at the frontline, “Sitting with people in Jaipur and Tamil Nadu, seeing your vision come to life, you think – this is what it’s all about. The most powerful thing is to enable people of the community with lived experiences of exploitation, to recognise their own role and raise their voices to the government as ambassadors of change.”

Amol’s excitement to use these learnings at the frontline to impact sector-wide change is infectious. He says, “I believe we won’t get anywhere without listening to and being guided by what people feel and live and see on the ground. We have the ability to learn from, to access and be guided by these partners to shape our interventions. I love being able to connect the various experiences of those working on the frontlines with broader efforts to shift an entire sector.”

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