What are you wa’an?







We begin this post, which is about a very, very unfunny topic, with a funny reference to one of the funniest movies ever, in our opinion:

The movie is “My Cousin Vinny”, and the scene we draw you to is the one in which the judge asks first-time lawyer Vinny Gambini (played with precise comic timing by Joe Pesci) what he is wearing:

Vinny Gambini: My clients…

Judge Chamberlain Haller: What are you wearing (note: the Judge pronounces this ‘wa’an‘, in a southern US drawl)?

Vinny Gambini: Huh?

Judge Chamberlain Haller: What are you wearing? (Less accent this time)

Vinny Gambini: [wearing a black leather jacket] Um… I’m wearing clothes.

[the Judge angrily stares ominously at Vinny]

Vinny Gambini: I… I don’t get the question.

Judge Chamberlain Haller: When you come into my court looking like you do, you not only insult me, but you insult the integrity of this court!

Vinny Gambini: I apologize, sir, but, uh… this is how I dress.

Judge Chamberlain Haller: Fine. I’ll let you off this one time. The next time you appear in my court, you will look lawyerly. And I mean you comb your hair, and wear a suit and tie. And that suit had better be made out of some sort of… cloth. You understand me?

Vinny Gambini: [not comprehending] Uh… yes. Fine, Judge, fine.

We ask that your takeaway from this comic scene is simply, “what are you wearing” – and instead of decorum, the question this time is – have you thought about the sustainability aspects of the clothing you purchase and wear?  Or, perhaps your business – or your project – requires the use of cloth or leather or other resources.  What’s their source?  Is the production of that material “okay”?

By “okay”, we refer to the classic project management and business concerns, like, is it going to be of consistent quality, a good price, and of reliable availability?  But in light of recent events in Bangladesh (1,100 workers killed at Rana Plaza) and Cambodia (shoe workers killed in building collapse)  we suggest that the “what are you wa’an” question also considers whether or not the resource or material is sustainable from the perspective of fair trade, of fair labor, of safe working conditions.

Have a look at this collection of stories from the UK’s Guardian newspaper regarding the recent tragedies in south Asia related to poor – and unsustainable – working conditions in that part of the world.

Notice also the ‘teaser’ for this list of stories:

“The collapse of a factory in Bangladesh has put sustainability in the fashion industry back on the agenda”

Cambodia shoe factory collapse kills workers
On Thursday 16 May a ceiling came down at Wing Star Shoes plant in Cambodia, killing at least two people. The latest in a long line of industrial accidents killing workers in the fashion industry making garments for the west.

Fashion chains sign to help finance safety in Bangladesh factories
Will the collapse of the Rana Plaza building lead to a change in practice? Some of the world’s biggest fashion chains, including H&M, Zara, C&A, Tesco and Primark, have signed up to a legally-binding agreement to help finance fire safety and building improvements in the factories they use in Bangladesh. The government in Dhaka has also announced plans to raise the the minimum wage for garment workers.

Eight top fashion retailers fail to sign Bangladesh safety accord
A number of retailers failed to put their names to a Bangladesh safety pact, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and New Look.

Bangladesh building collapse: woman rescued after 17 days speaks of ordeal – video
A woman found alive in the rubble of Dhaka’s Rana Plaza after 17 days tells how she got rescuers’ attention with a stick as she heard voices above her.

Bangladesh building collapse – pictures
Devastating photographs of the Rana Plaza collapse which killed more than 1,100 people in April 2013.

Fashion doesn’t give a damn about garment workers
Thought-provoking comment piece by Lucy Siegle – author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World – which gives an insight into the fashion industry and how the world’s 40 million garment workers work to try and complete near-impossible orders.

Was your T-shirt made in the Dhaka garment factory? You have no idea
Applying any ethical criteria is challenging when it comes to fashion – so isn’t it time we had Fairtrade labelling for clothes?

Death in Bangladesh is too high a price for quick-fix fashion
Blog by 18 year-old fashion lover on how she has stopped buying cheap clothes. She points out teenagers’ spending power is worth £7bn a year – imagine if that were channelled into buying fewer well-made clothes produced under fair wages.

Time for an international minimum wage
Bangladeshi writer Muhammad Yunus’ insightful comment piece is great for sixth formers who want to delve deeper into the how foreign buyers can unite to lift workers out of ‘slave labour’.

The deaths of thousands of workers due to short-term thinking reminds us that sustainability is about much more than the climate and “green” but about long-term thinking in general.

We ask that:

As an individual, consider your clothing purchases.  A boycott of goods from these countries is probably counter-productive.  The clothing industry in countries like Bangladesh has indeed improved the quality of life.  Instead, ask questions, push for more accountability from the retail stores, fashion brand names, and mass marketers.  Push them to sign up for controls and limits and commitment to sustainability and fair trade in manufacturing.

As a project manager, turn off your natural propensity for the ‘project timeline blinders’ which we often put on – for all the right reasons.  Take them off from time to time and look around.

Maybe we all need to be more like the Judge and ask – what are we wa’an?