Fashion and Charity – In Whose Best Interest?
Since the 1960's, the fashion world has taken a stand on numerous social causes. The antiwar movements and women's rights are just a couple of the areas in which the fashion world has made strong statements. More recently, fashion has taken to assisting and speaking for individual charitable causes and in some cases, it has been asked just what best interests are involved.
A prime example of this has been the partnership between Gucci, Prada and Armani and UNICEF; The United Nations Childrens Fund. The reasons and motivation behind this particular collaboration have been questioned by some international groups and, possibly most telling for the United Nations, by the very front line workers who would receive the proceedings.
Senior staff members of UNICEF have consistently stated their displeasure with the charity's close ties with the world of glamor and celebrity, saying it is both demeaning to the work that the UN is doing as well as having a strong smell of hypocrisy about it.
UNICEF staff in Pakistan and India have spoken against the alleged working practices of the French conglomerate PPR (previously Pinault-Printemps-Redoute), the owners of Gucci and which Asian suppliers have, for a number of years, been linked to sweatshops in Mumbai and Karachi.
One long term employee of UNICEF has stated that, for him, this partnership with Gucci has been the final straw and that the feeling among workers is almost unimous that the UNICEF name is being hurt by this undertaking.
Another problem arises with the close ties between celebrities and near every major human disaster disaster. Putting up with the star and his or her entourage is bad enough, but the connection in the public's eyes between celebrity and disaster relief cheapens and degrades the entire effort, claim the front line ground workers.
According to some, the current desire of fashion companies to align themselves with charities may have more to do with covering numerous coins than to strike a chord in people's consciousness. These critics say that many firms are just looking for a cause to jump on and that associating with a good cause will provide an aggressive bump for sales.
To be fair, the fact that the fashion industry in general and specific companies in particular benefit from alliances with international charities is only to be expected but the key will come down to the perception of the public and the workers involved.
If both the company and the charity gain by such an effort; Fine. It is only when the goals of the charity are seen to be compromised and the message diluted that both partners should be looking long and hard at exactly why they are collaborating in this venture.