For years, many have been calling for the fashion industry to change its approaches to abusive labour in the industry - a problem that has largely been ignored for decades. While many brands have certainly made strides in their efforts to ethically source materials and pay workers living wages, many still use forced labour to make their garments.
As a result of these issues, a group of models and activists have come together to call attention to the subject as New York Fashion Week begins. On Sunday, September 13, the Model Alliance and Free Uyghur Now staged a protest outside of Spring Studios in New York City, which is where many shows are taking place this week.
The group called attention to the fashion industry's alleged profiting off of forced labour from the Uyghur people of China, an ethnic minority. During a press conference, protesters held signs made from garments with the words "made with forced Uyghur labour." There was also a catwalk where models wore shirts with red ribbons in solidarity.
"As justice-oriented students, we refuse to be silent and complicit in the CCP's genocide of the Uyghurs," Mosaab Sadeia, Political Lead of Free Uyghur Now said, per InStyle U.S. "Several companies utilise supply chains that rely on forced Uyghur labour, profiting off their suffering. Today we hope to centre this issue at the first show of New York Fashion Week."
Sara Ziff, Executive Director and Founder of the Model Alliance explained: "20 per cent of the world's cotton is being produced through the forced labour of the Uyghur ethnic minority in China. Thanks to an Uyghur model, Merdan Ghappar, who spent 18 days shackled in a labour camp where he filmed himself handcuffed in a dirty room, we can no longer deny the reality of genocide in fashion’s global supply chain.
"The Model Alliance is calling on all the designers showing at Fashion Week to speak beyond the craft and creativity of your work, and to the underlying conditions of your source material: are you profiting off the oppression of a whole people?"
If you want to get involved, the organisation has set up a petition to sign here.