‘Social enterprises are businesses that trade to intentionally tackle social problems, improve communities, provide people access to employment and training, or help the environment.’ Social Traders
Flying Fox Fabric was established to support and improve the lives of Indigenous Australian artists and disabled Cambodians. We source Australian designed and hand-printed fabrics from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) artists and art centres and provide work for Cambodian social enterprises – and this creates a range of positive social impacts in two countries. We pay the asking price from the art centres (for fabrics) and our partners (the product makers) – no questions, no argy bargy. As at early October 2020 we had paid more than AUS$20,000 to our partners in Cambodia in this calendar year. This was for their manufacturing work and it has made a huge difference to them during COVID-19.
Flying Fox Fabrics also exists because, not only does our founder love textiles, customers want and deserve quality ethical fabric products made from ATSI fabrics. The broader social and environmental impacts is that Flying Fox Fabrics products are not ‘fashion’, they are created to be valued, have timeless appeal and to have a long lifespan. We are very conscious of the fact that #fastfashion is an environmental global justice issue.
If you are curious about the difference between a social enterprise and a charity – see the article here How Social Entrepreneurship Beats Charity Work.
A social enterprise
Flying Fox Fabrics has two key target groups it seeks to support through ethical business: 1) Indigenous fabric designers/printers/art centres and 2) disabled and disadvantaged artisans and their families. The positive social impacts delivered through the project include:
- Income stream for fabric artists/designers from royalties
- Livelihoods for fabric printers
- Strengthens/diversifies income streams and opportunities for residents of remote communities and art centres
- Fosters individual and community pride from sharing cultural knowledge and having products valued by customers
- Builds awareness of Indigenous art and culture amongst non-Indigenous people
- Generates right livelihoods for disabled and disadvantaged Cambodians
- Promotes #slowfashion
- Educates consumers about fair-trade and right livelihoods
- Gives ethical consumers opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to supporting the livelihoods of Indigenous Australians and Cambodians
- Makes ethical and affordable fair trade products available more widely
Building awareness – supply chain
It is possible to make a huge difference to people’s lives through the small and big purchasing decisions we make. It’s great to see consumers becoming more aware of the relationship between the clothing, accessories and homewares they purchase and their supply chain – where it from and how/who made it.
All enterprises need to be profitable so they can be sustainable, however, if a business is exploiting its employees so it can make cheap products it does not deserve to be patronised. Oxfam has been very active in drawing attention to the issues with garment industry supply chain and ‘sweatshop’ production. See their Company Tracker table of Australian companies: Where do the big brands stand in the race to a living wage? to see how they stack up.
Where we spend our money can either contribute to someone’s fair livelihood or undermine it.
Sweatshops are very real in Cambodia and other developing countries
Currently, the garment industry employees over 600,000 people, making the sector the biggest employer in the country. Further, the industry accounts for 16 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 80 percent of Cambodia’s export earnings. November 2018. Cambodia is still rebuilding after more than 20 years of genocidal war and conflict leaving millions dead and many more maimed by landmines and diseases such as polio. Health services are grossly underfunded and there is no social security. No pensions, no disability benefits. From firsthand experience we (at Flying Fox Fabrics) know about sweatshops from years of living in and visiting Cambodia. Cambodia’s garment industry employs mainly young women and working conditions are often oppressive. Almost all factories are foreign owned. The current monthly minimum wage is US$182 and this was only achieved after strenuous and dangerous protesting.
Mass faintings in [garment] factories has been a phenomena for years [in Cambodia]: A report released by Labor Behind the Label and the Community Legal Education Center supports that malnutrition is a fundamental cause, stating that “malnutrition […] has led to a situation where workers are weak and prone to collapse,” even though triggers in individual incidents vary. On average, workers eat only about half of the daily recommended caloric intake for the job, in part because they cannot afford to buy sufficient amounts of food.
Read more about the causes of mass faintings in Cambodian garment industry and another article about the hazards created for workers when commuting.
Positive impacts for consumers
We have met many people who want to support Indigenous artists by purchasing their arts and crafts. There is so much goodwill out there. The Fake Art Harms Culture Campaign run by Indigenous Art Code has highlighted the abundance of inauthentic product in the marketplace. Yet accessing affordable products, including fabrics, from remote community art centres is not always easy, there are barriers. Remoteness creates a number of constraints and challenges that our founder is very familiar with having worked for and with art centres for more than 30 years. Likewise it is very difficult for consumers to access the products of our Cambodian partners unless they visit the country.