Social washing.

A fashion bag in the metro

A fashion bag in the metro

Greenwashing is well-known and widely found. So common actually, that it is sometimes mistaken as true commitment. We can wonder, in the picture above recently taken in the metro, if they were aware of the claim. This bag, telling fashion shouldn’t go to waste. Willingness to do greenwashing here is questionable as it plays on the separate meaning of the word “fashion.” It could be understood as the concept or as the product itself. And although we agree the products shouldn’t go to waste, the concept of fashion is rather different. Wiktionary defines it as “A current (constantly changing) trend, …” The constantly changing process implies that the current trend will become one of the past and then be discarded. It is an interesting example as it shows the key point of greenwashing is not the claim, but its mismatch with the reality. Nobody will pretend oil extraction is a green business, assert the opposite would be greenwashing. However explaining the industry has reduced the power consumption needed for a barrel (hence improved the efficiency and lowered the pollution for an equivalent amount of fuel available) could be true (although that’s quite the contrary with the alternative oil source as Canadian Oil Sands) and then wouldn’t be greenwashing.

We do have to question ourselves on the social washing. Greenwashing is counter productive as it avoids people to focus on what matter, it prevents the good players to be acknowledged as such and it actually breaks the trust of consumers. Social washing has exactly the same consequences. It prevents factories to really try to improve and favor dissimulation, it prevents involved brands to clearly differentiate of the other competitors, it tends to lead more resources to the communication than to the actual actions in the production countries. So indeed, claiming to operate only with compliant factories when many major production countries average working time is still far from their own local laws or international recommendation, when many countries still have loopholes in their legislation promoting forced labor or when even the basic safety is a daily challenge, is actually social washing and is going against the real purpose which is improving workers life.

We didn’t ask the oil industry to stop today, we do have the need for energy and other sources are not sufficient yet. But we do request them to shift in their business to limit their impact and (as most are doing) shift from oil company to energy company. Humanity will always have to get dressed, and social and environmental responsibility would likely be more in shifting the business in new ways than just alleging nice but unreachable goals.

We should then all wonder if our actions are really improving the social situation or if we are actually playing the game of social washing.

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