Above: a model at Silk Thread Martyrs, emerging designer Omar Joseph‘s show held during last year’s London Fashion Week, from The Electronic Intifada.
Sustainable, ethical, fair trade, social investment — how hard can it be to define what is good?
Harder than you might think.
The products pictured here illustrate how fashion and beauty products can express controverted political, religious and moral values. One person’s idea of social good can be another’s call to war.
Case in point: this fair-trade, environmentally friendly olive oil soap. On one level, it’s a relatively routine example of an ethical, fair trade beauty product. It supports cooperatives; it uses natural ingredients; its profits go towards promoting economic development among people who have been marginalized by violent conflict. It is even certified by one of the world’s leading fair trade labeling organizations, the Fairtrade Foundation, a member of Fairtrade International.
Yet as current events indicate, not everyone would endorse the values promoted through this beauty product. The brand, Al-Ard, is Arabic for “The Land,” a concept that has strong political significance in the context of the Mideast conflict.
The point here is not to take sides–rather, I merely want to call attention to the complexity of defining what constitutes ethical fashion. One aspect of this is theoretical, but it also has legal and strategic implications. For example, consider the following sentence from the description of Al-Ard’s social purpose:
As a member of the International Fair Trade Association, Al’ard primary objectives lie with the welfare of the producing communities who were marginalized by modernity and isolated by the Israeli occupation apartheid policies.
Does fair trade certification imply an endorsement of a group’s broader political perspective? Should a certifying organization take such values into consideration? Is a policy of procedural neutrality viable when a certification organization stands for promoting social good?
Answering these questions can be difficult, especially when there are conflicting ethical commitments.
[Initial source of info re Al'Ard soap: The Islamic Bookstore, which besides beauty products has an extensive collection of books on Islamic law, including work by my first instructor in the subject, Khaled About El Fadl.]