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New Report Exposes Human Rights Abuses on Frontlines of Forest Fabric Production

Image credit: RAN

A new report released today from Rainforest Action Network (RAN) documents decades of human rights abuses suffered by communities at the frontlines of plantation expansion for tree-based fabric production. Lessons from the Incense Forest implicates popular American brands, which RAN has dubbed the ‘Fashion Fifteen’, as being at risk for deforestation and human rights violations in their supply chains. Prominent brands include fashion giant Ralph Lauren, whose Annual General Meeting (AGM) is to take place in New York City this Thursday, August 6th.

The report follows a trend of growing pressure on American fashion companies to do more to address deforestation and human rights abuses in their global supply chains. Activists recently made a colorful display on the red carpet of the 2015 Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Fashion Awards at New York City’s Lincoln Center, calling on Ralph Lauren to adopt policies that commit the leading fashion company to using only forest-friendly fabrics in its products.

“Every year, tens of millions of trees are turned into clothing through the use of forest fabrics like rayon and viscose,” said RAN Senior Forest Campaigner Brihannala Morgan. “These forests have played a critical part of local community livelihoods for generations, and are now being seized and clear cut for forest fabrics. Without strong policies from fashion companies, rainforest destruction and human rights abuses can become part of our clothing.

“There are some brands that are taking action on this issue, like H&M and Stella McCartney, but Ralph Lauren and the Fashion Fifteen aren’t among them, and there’s just no excuse. As one of the biggest fashion brands in the world, Ralph Lauren has the ability and resources to ensure that human rights abuses and forest destruction won’t be a part of their next collection,” Morgan said.

The new report documents the recent global expansion of mega-plantations for the production of pulp for fabrics, and the resulting devastation to indigenous and forest-dependent communities. Illegal land-grabbing is rampant. In the area owned by just one company, Toba Pulp Lestari, in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, over 20 distinct cases have been documented where traditional, community-owned land has been forcibly seized without the consent of the community and then clear-cut for fabric pulp production.

These communities have been protesting against the loss of their land, livelihoods and resources, and have maintained a decades-long campaign against Toba Pulp Lestari, which is owned by Indonesian tycoon Sukanto Tanoto. Tanoto also owns one of the most controversial families of companies in Indonesia — Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) group. Among many others, RGE owns the pulp-processing company Sateri and APRIL (which in June finally succumbed to years of activist pressure and announced an end to deforestation as part of a new Sustainable Forest Management Plan). While many of these companies have recently adopted policies, RAN is calling on fashion companies to help pressure growers and producers to implement real changes on the ground.

RAN’s Out of Fashion campaign is highlighting Ralph Lauren as one of the most prominent brands among the Fashion Fifteen group of companies — which includes Prada, LVMH, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Vince, Guess, Velvet, L Brands, Forever 21, Under Armour, Footlocker, Abercrombie and Fitch, GAIAM and Beyond Yoga. RAN is calling on these fashion companies to take responsibility for their supply chains, identify and eliminate bad actors, and develop strong, time-bound commitments to protect forests and human rights.


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