Case study: ActionAid

The charity's Make Fashion Fair campaign wants higher pay for textile workers in India

Textile workers in India
Textile workers in India

In July, ActionAid UK began a three-pronged campaign called Make Fashion Fair, which called on Asda to pay more to the women in Asia who make its clothes.

The campaign mixed the innovative with the tried and tested: there was the publication of a report called Asda: Poverty Guaranteed, saying why it was targeting the supermarket.

The report says: "While the company tries leaping ahead of its rivals on the high street, it's falling behind in its efforts to improve conditions for women workers in poor countries, whose wages are keeping them trapped in poverty."

It says if Asda paid two pence extra on each T-shirt it buys from India, the women who make them could be paid a living wage. (Asda says the charity's calculation is flawed and it would like to show it the "positive impact" it is having on workers in Bangladesh.)

ActionAid staff and volunteers also protested outside Asda stores. They asked shoppers to give two pence each and gave the money collected to store managers to illustrate the difference small amounts could make.

But the most unusual aspect of the campaign was the idea to plant 'secret messages' into thousands of items of clothing at Asda stores in the UK. The messages, which were made from the same material as clothing labels to avoid causing damage, were placed in pockets, where it was hoped shoppers would find them and read about Asda's "lamentable record on paying poverty wages to factory workers in developing countries".

Customers discovering them could claim an ActionAid T-shirt and enter a prize draw to win fair trade food and clothing. They were encouraged to send their own messages to Asda to call for better pay for the workers.

Meredith Alexander, head of trade and corporates at ActionAid, says the messages idea was conceived by a member of staff. She says one of the charity's considerations was ensuring the messages turned shoppers on to its campaign, hence not damaging clothes and trying to engage shoppers with the strategy and invite further action.

"We wanted to make it a positive experience for them," says Alexander. The charity used volunteers for its protests, but relied on ActionAid staff to plant the messages.

EXPERT VIEW - Peter Gilheany, Director, Forster

A good creative idea can go a long way in campaigning: the difference between a couple of mentions in the trade media and a story that cracks the nationals.

However, a good tactical idea can be all mouth and no trousers.

All the benefit will quickly dissipate if it isn't part of a longer-term plan of action. This is a weakness of so many charity campaigns and one that ActionAid must avoid.

A fantastic idea has given Make Fashion Fair a dream start, but now the hard work of behaviour change must begin.

You only have to look at the current welter of ads for £2 school uniforms to realise that this isn't a campaign that is likely to succeed quickly.

In addition, the lack of visibility for the campaign on the ActionAid website doesn't bode well.

Creativity: 5
Delivery: 3
Total: 8 out 10

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