An Interview with Rachel Faller of Tonlé (Part Two)

Continued from Part 1

Women and children are the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What about the status of women’s and children’s rights as well?

Women and children tend to be most exploited in the industry because they are more exploited by society in general, which forces them to often take the low wage jobs that men who have been given more wealth, education, and power in society, won’t take. 80% of garment factory workers around the world are women.


Children are the most vulnerable population. Women tend to have less status than men in societies including the right to decent working conditions, decent pay, to vote, to acquire an education, and to be self-sufficient. What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights, which have existed for a long time, in this domain of the working world? Child labour and slavery are problems – major ones. These include children throughout the world. Tens of millions of children in the case of child labour and a few million for child slavery. How can individuals get the word out about these other rights violations?

This is a tricky issue because many of the slavery issues occur early on in the supply chain, in cotton farming, milling, and spinning. Half of US fashion brands have no traceability of their supply chains at all, and most that do have any traceability can only trace to cut make and trim (CMT), meaning they have no idea where their cotton was grown or spun or made into fabric or dyed. There are non-disclosure agreements all along to supply chain to supposedly protect trade secrets, but it’s a convenient way for the brands to ultimately shirk responsibility for slavery (and other issues) in their supply chains. Ultimately there are a lot of old world practices like this that I think will become un-tenable in today’s global economy, which is increasingly more interested in transparency, connection, and sharing. I hope that this (and whistle blowers) will help us to see brands being pressured to change what’s going on in their supply chains – which will help consumers decide which brands they should and shouldn’t support.

Handwoven scarves made from recycled scrap fabric.

Handwoven scarves made from recycled scrap fabric.

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations in many countries of the world have better quality of life?

We have to tackle these issues from all angles, and everyone has a role to play. There is more information available to us about brands and with a little research the average person can get a better idea of how to really shop their values. Ultimately, brands do have to listen to consumers so changing your buying practices is really important. From within the industry, there will be change when there is a critical mass of CEOs, designers, accountants, and everyone else who does not stand for the current practices. In large companies, there is often a huge disconnect between design and manufacturing that keeps designers or CSR teams from making change, but it does not need to be that way if core members of these companies (and their shareholders) were to change their beliefs as well.

Naturally dyed, zero waste tonlé Keang tops

Naturally dyed, zero waste tonlé Keang tops

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

The most fulfilling part of my work is working directly with the women on our team and making products with them. I love getting involved in the big stuff as well as the little stuff, and seeing the lives of the people we work with changing and growing. The people I work with are a joy to be around and they inspire me every day. That is the most meaningful thing to me.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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