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Fairness In Fashion Starts In Factories

Benetton Group, which for more than fifty years has been a global leader in the fashion industry, is proud of its commitment to social issues which is why we have pledged to do what we can to tackle this problem at source.

Benetton Group, which for more than fifty years has been a global leader in the fashion industry, is proud of its commitment to social issues which is why we have pledged to do what we can to tackle this problem at source. I deeply believe you have to start somewhere to build a better future, and whilst your first steps may seem small, they can still help to shift things in a new and more positive direction.

As chair of Benetton's sustainability committee, I face a huge challenge in seeking to address a range of difficulties facing the women in the developing world whose labour underpins not only our business, but the whole global fashion industry. It would have been easy to wait for a perfect, fully comprehensive approach, but instead we wanted to get started and do what we can to help now.

So, in this spirit, last year we pledged to focus all Benetton's sustainability work on women, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN for 2020, with the launch of a global initiative called the Benetton Women Empowerment programme. This is an umbrella for all our sustainability initiatives. The task is enormous, and of course we can't solve the problems alone, so we are also working closely with NGO's and partner organisations who can help to bring about practical changes on the ground and support us in this.

One of our most significant partnerships is with UN Women, with whom Benetton has just introduced the first concrete projects on the Sustainable Livelihood. This consists of various concrete initiatives over the next two years aimed at empowering home-based female workers in Pakistan and women in the RMG (Ready Made Garments) sector in Bangladesh.

We've had to think carefully about the best way to make this work and believe the most effective solution is for Benetton to support and fund activities led by UN Women, the United Nations organisation for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Our shared aim is to improve the conditions of female garment workers and make them less vulnerable at work and at home.

One of the first projects we'll do together is in Bangladesh, where textile manufacturing has many problems but is also helping to lift millions of women and their families out of poverty. Our initiative will help between 5,000 and 6,000 women currently working in the ready-made fashion sector - either in factories or from home. We'll offer them training to build their professional skills and help them become more financially literate - so they can sign up for basic financial products at local banks, such as loans, insurances and savings accounts, and take greater charge of their earnings.

In addition, we want to improve safety and conditions for them at work, which means - in the factories which are not owned or working with Benetton - starting a dialogue with their employers.

In Pakistan, again working with UN Women, we will support around 1,500 women living in the manufacturing district of Sialkot.

Priority will be given to the unemployed, those working at home or in the fields and those belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. We will help each of them obtain an ID, which is necessary to vote, open a bank account and get access to training courses and hope to show them and their families what their rights are as women and workers, emphasising the need for them to be involved in decision-making processes, at all levels. We will also help them obtain formal employment and, again, work together with the local textile factories to make workplaces more welcoming to women.

But this only part of the picture. Poverty blights their lives in many other ways too. So we are, at the same time, also building other partnerships seeking to address problems such as health and maternity care, teenage marriage and the problems that go with early motherhood.

For example, also under the umbrella of the Women Empowerment Programme, Benetton recently supported the UN Population Fund initiative in support of safer birth across developing countries. Women's health is another core plank of our activity and helping UNFPA draw attention to this important topic is one way in which we can contribute.

Of course, this is just a start, but we hope these projects may help to inspire others and soon bring about real improvements for at least some women. The task is immense and it's beyond the capacity of any single company - or indeed sector - to solve these problems. But walking away isn't the answer either. The textile sector in countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan is a route out of poverty for millions of women and their families. We're trying to throw them a ladder, and help improve lives.

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