The intersection between Black Lives Matter, the climate crisis and Covid-19 is something which has been on our minds recently. One common thread connecting these crises may be a lack of government accountability, but we feel there is something much more troubling at work; these crises seem to disproportionately affect poorer communities of colour.
But while both Covid-19 and systemic racism have taken human lives, the climate crisis feels more abstract to many (even to us who make it part of our life's mission). For a growing portion of the world though, climate change is far from invisible.
Up until now, much of the climate movement has been driven by the “compassionate minority” working to create a better world for future generations. But now things have developed and our industrial society has caught up with us. The effects of climate change no longer live in an imagined future, but rather in an unfortunately present reality. And sadly, we’re discovering that the first to suffer the effects - droughts, floods, extreme rains, tornadoes, etc - are poorer communities of colour and developing nations. These weather disturbances lead to economic difficulties within these communities and nations which risks worsening racial inequality on a global scale.
Legacies of colonialism echo on with the sound of systemically racist policies. These policies have oppressed people of colour and confined them to impoverished environments where they are more susceptible to health hazards and extreme weather. We’ve already seen this play out, for example with Hurricane Katrina and the racial inequality of flood defenses in New Orleans, where it was revealed that a disproportionately low amount of funding had been invested in flood protection for black neighbourhoods. And there are countless other examples of racial disparities in aid allocation, access to housing assistance and business recovery.
Statistically, there are health risks to being a person of colour. Black British Africans, for example, are 28% more likely to be exposed to air pollution than the white population. Black Americans are killed by the Police at twice the rate as white Americans and similarly in the US, black, latino and native Americans have been at a considerably higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than their white counterparts. But what is more troubling still is the disparity between the instigators of climate change and the victims.
Despite the fact that the UK is per capita the biggest contributor to global temperature change, they are one of the least vulnerable to its effects. And this disparity can be seen mirrored across many other developed countries. In contrast, 7 out of 10 of the countries most affected are in sub-Saharan Africa. So while an upper elite may travel by plane in and out of London for their daily commute, in sub-Saharan Africa thousands of families are driven from their homes and livelihoods by the extreme weather conditions this behaviour contributes to.
This is something that cannot be ignored. The implications of allowing communities of colour to sink deeper into poverty would likely deepen the rift of racial and economic inequality and consequently fuel the vicious cycle of systemic racism. The relentless, sacrificial work of so many brave civil rights leaders is at risk of being reversed to some degree if we are to sit back and allow these communities of colour to take the brunt of climate change.
But, of course, as a fashion company, we must also acknowledge the environmental and racial consequences of production. For example, in much of the industry, when garments are dyed, the chemicals end up in the water supply and lead to health risks for the local wildlife and community. Similarly, the pesticides pushed by major agricultural firms - which cotton farmers are pressured into using for fear of crop failure - are highly dangerous to coexist with and have led to birth defects.
Again, in first world countries these issues can feel abstract, but they are anything but abstract for some people of colour in faraway lands. And yes, we are a company that profits from this industry, but we exist in this space not to succeed by mirroring these unethical practices purely for profit, but rather the opposite. By producing under the stricter legal framework of the European Union, we avoid these practices to illuminate a way of doing things that minimises the environmental impact of production and boycotts the exploitation of poor communities of colour.
In a globalised world, these issues are often intimately intertwined with each other and should be considered as such. The fight for racial justice must therefore incorporate the fight for climate justice. And the voices of people of colour from around the world must be sought and amplified.
Words by Ewan Waddell.