Baroness Young calls activists a hinderance

At The Source Summit last week Baroness Young called “puritanical activists” a “hinderance”. Fashion Mob founder, Esther Freeman, thinks she’s wrong. This is why.

Greenpeace activists

“It’s too negative, too agressive”, said a friend, when I gushed about a direct action I thought was particularly brilliant.

I wondered whether she was right. Maybe it was better to bring about change through partnership. Maybe direct actions are an outdated hangover from the 70s? Is it time for the old hippies to move on?

This certainly seems to be what Baroness Young thinks when she talked to a group of largely industry professionals at The Source Summit last week. According to The Guardian she called “puritanical activists” a “hinderance”.

It’s hard to know exactly who she’s referring to as the ethical fashion scene is hardly known for it’s wild acts of civil disobedience. The most ‘out there’ actions around fashion recently have been from Greenpeace and War on Want. And let’s just remind ourselves of the outcomes: Greenpeace got Zara to agree to go toxic free, and War on Want got Primark to sign up to the Bangldesh Health and Safety Accord.

Tsk, such a hinderance these bloody activists!

I used to be in favour of change both through pressure groups on the outside and partnership on the inside. In fact I wrote about it at some length in the Huffington Post. However since then I’ve been seeing more and more greenwashing from the fashion industry, while action on human rights remains almost zero.

That’s why campaigns such as The Clean Clothes Campaign’s spoof of H&M’s Conscious Collection are so important. They shine a light on what isn’t being done.

It seems slightly foolish timing for Baroness Young to criticise activists who “view corporates with deep suspicion”. After all, Primark, who are signed up to the Ethical Trading Initiative, have just been involved in one of the worst industrial tragedies in living memory. And it wasn’t as if they responded quickly to signing the Bangladesh Health and Safety Accord either.

Of course Baroness Young is a politician and she was speaking to a group of industry insiders. It’s hardly surprising she would take this line. It’s just a shame that the debate on activism couldn’t be had with the people she is accusing of being puritanical.


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