Using the Media: the Clean Clothes Campaign

The existing use of media so far has been determined by the local, decentralized nature of the campaign. Local groups are adapting, editing and redesigning existing material like research results, lines of argumentation and logos, photos and slogans. The educational material, used by trade unions, schools and churches is very specific and "customized", and therefore cannot be used in campaigns which target the general public.

Experience has shown that it is of no use to produce unified, centralized material for awareness-raising purposes. The campaign is active in 10 European countries, and aims to reach many different audiences. Language is a potential problem that can cause time-consuming delays to the dissemination of information. Local groups will for certain re-edit texts and a word-for-word translation from one language to the other can end up being meaningless. At the same time, research results, eyewitness reports of working conditions and urgent action appeals need to be circulated quickly. Bad English, which will then be freely interpreted, has a better chance of resulting in a clear statement than 1:1 translations. A statement in Bahasa given in may 1998 by an Indonesian woman about conditions in factories producing Levi Strauss clothes was translated by us into English. We found quotes excerpted from this translation in Austrian newspapers, a brochure of the Swiss CCC, a Flemish newsletter and in documentation used in the UK by groups negotiating with companies.

Short texts will, most likely, be more effective for awareness-raising purposes than extensive reports. By short we mean texts that fit on a poster or a postcard, urgent action appeals that only have a few paragraphs or brochures with equal amounts of pictures as texts. The essential information will be integrated into newsgroups or magazines of the specific target groups. with the right logo and font, people will recognize the information as their own. E-mail makes distribution easier, but now we're battling the subject line, trying to get attention in four words.

Next to specific groups, there is the general press campaign. On a regular basis it seems necessary to have articles and photos in the mainstream press. National publicity provides the campaign with a legitimate face so that small, local groups can feel that their efforts on behalf of the campaign are legitimized. We do too. Reports in the mass media are indeed reaching large numbers of people, though for a very short time. People will thereby "store" tiny bits of information in their subconsciousness. Later on they vaguely might have heard of "bad working circumstances" or "C&A being bad".

There is a whole variety of classical methods to get into the newspapers and onto television: prepare a press release, organize a press conference, fly over some Asian specialists and witnesses, edit video material, and the obligatory "action" on the street, in front of a shop, department store or factory gates. Collecting old running shoes from concerned consumers and dumping them in front of the Adidas office was good for national coverage in Belgium. A portable shop window visualized production conditions and protests, and traveled from country to country. Acting in different countries at the same time helps. As part of the international Nike campaign a giant "Odor Eater" was made in Australia to try to get rid of the "stink" of bad labour conditions in the sports shoe industry. Among actions aimed at individuals was the Spanish CCC's postcard campaign targetting seven football players on the Spanish National team--the players were inundated with 50,000 cards from consumers concerned with working conditions.

The CCC focuses primarily on clothing to tell the story of multinational companies, working conditions and human rights. The campaigns then tend to focus on a few specific firms. This concentrates resources, and is good publicity wise. (Another reason for this is that small firms also have less power for change.) Examples are C&A (the Netherlands), Hennes & Mauritz (Sweden) and Nike (everywhere). This approach has clearly had good results, but there is a negative side as well. People might think that only one firm is violating workers rights and in need of condemnation. As a result people are encouraged to overlook others who are equally in the wrong. Or, when the firm changes policy, as C&A and H&M both did, people think the problem has been solved. The danger exists also that stories of the workers are becoming stereotypes (Olga from Ukraine, age 20, paid a low wage, has two children, etc.).

It is fun to "hijack" the slogans and logos of big firms, and in most of the cases this does not have any legal consequences. Reusing and de-contextualizing "their" signs is useful to tamper with the image of the companies, the most valuable asset they have. It means taking into account the identity that the company tries to project, and using it. A company that uses a hyped, arrogant marketing campaign, which tries to shock its audience -- Benneton, for example with it's "true color of money" is a prime target for "adbusters" (as in Canada, by a group of the same name) and also ensures that any information on their bad working conditions (the use of child labour at a Turkish subcontractor tin Benneton's case) is immediately news. The slogan "Just Do It!" worked well for a while, but then people got tired of Nike's "hipness" and brutal forms of appropriation of youth and underground culture. Their call for unity and attempts to mobilize the young consumer masses in the end turned against them. It is fairly simple and effective to turn the Nike logo upside down, drowned in blood.The international Nike campaign detourned the tagline, initiating a "Just Stop It" campaign, calling on the company to "do it just." In some cases the Adidas goal was altered to reflect reality, announcing the possibility to "work for a pittance to reinvent soccer."

At the same time, we have to be careful not to get stuck in the image-battle. Companies confronted with campaigns these days see themselves as only having a "communication problem," and try to come up with solutions in that sphere. Campaigns usually have a problem with the way production is organized, and the debate and action should focus on this.

This target-group oriented approach, making many different translations and versions of the same information, is to this day limited to the old media. The internet, most of all, is a storage medium, which can be used as an on-line archive. Access to all the available information and databases has to be created. Archives as such are chaotic and have to be put in order before they go on-line. What to do with unuseful piles of paper and computer files? The campaign, so far, has not yet managed to solve the question of the information architectures of its website. The question remains how to navigate through all the reports, e-mails, affiliated organizations, urls, databases, etc. the website is being looked at by many visitors so it would make sense to quickly act and come open with a new, open structure of for site. It can in theory enormously broaden the distribution of our info to a consumer audience in the same medium where corporate agents display there marketing, brand identity, annual reports, etc. normally, we are forced to operate in a different space, for example we can never compete with them on TV.

This is primarily a question of human resources. So far there is no capacity to do this job. Designers and programmers are hereby invited to contact the Clean Clothes Campaign. It would be ideal to have weekly, or even daily updates, constant inputs from outside and continuous maintainance. The internet still has to be discovered for its potential to do on-line updates and internet-specific campaigning. A nice example is a technical error somewere on the Nike site which causes consumer questions and suggestions to nike to somehow end up in our mailbox, which means we can answer them. People suggesting new product lines or advertising possibilities for Nike thus receive info on working conditions instead.

More and more, the internet is used these days not only to provide information but also to do research. It is a general tendency that data are being privitized, locked in corporate intranets or commercial databases. The disadvantage of buying information on-line is the lack of context. We can no longer browse through the hardcopy of a certain report. Instead, we only get the specific information we asked for (for example through a search engine). creating a database ourselves that does not have this same disadvantage presents a real challenge. How can we prevent information from getting "buried"? How do we deal with the obsession with "new" info, where people only read or access the latest bit of information about a certain company? Often disputes about a certain violation of workers' rights drag on, and it is precisely the older cases that do not get solved that in fact are the most urgent.

Another question we have to ask ourselves is to what extent information, which is being put on-line (on the web, or in a database), should be centralized and unified. Will groups in other cities and countries use the same standards? To what extent is it desirable to have workgroup software, with a shared interface and tools? So far, e-mail has proven to be a very effective and cheap medium for internal communication and coordination. But this seems obvious by now. The question really is about the architecture of our own database, archives and websites.

For the future we think about projects, a database that is easy to use and expand by the different campaign organisations, linking Clean Clothes communities to digital cities, creating action opportunities using the companies very own websites, targetting on-line shoppers, intercepting them in their virtual space just as we used to target consumers entering stores in city centers...

The Clean Clothes Campaign