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After an acting career, Lola Young went on to become professor of Cultural Studies at Middlesex University, a writer and cultural critic. She subsequently became Head of Culture at the Greater London Authority, and has been a judge for the Orange Prize for Literature and The Observer newspaper Ethical Awards.

Baroness Young was appointed an independent crossbench member of the House of Lords in 2004. Today, she co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion. A member of the review of Children in Care in the Youth Justice System and the House of Lords Select committee on sexual violence in conflict, she also chairs the Young Review, improving outcomes for young black and Muslim men in the criminal justice system.

In this interview, we get deep into modern slavery, but we also talk about football, Grace Jones, diversity in fashion and the arts, and of course, we talk about clothes.

Modern slavery is depressing stuff, but this Episode is not depressing. It’s all about unleashing your inner activist, understanding the issues and taking positive steps to do something about them. If you’re an individual, they can be really small steps; if you’re in business, they might be bigger ones.

As Lola says, “We can all do our bit in different ways.”

This Episode is all about solutions, Lola believes we have the power. We can all make change. 



THE HOUSE OF LORDS. Situated in the Palace of Westminster, the House of Lords is the upper house of the British Parliament. It has 3 main functions: to question & challenge the work of the Government; to work with the House of Commons to shape laws; and to investigate issues through committees and debates to help improve the way the country is governed. 

The Lords started off as an advisory council to the king. In 1215, King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta, sharing power with the nobility. Trade became more important which lead to the rise of a new merchant class, and by the 14th century Edward III had two groups of advisors divided into chambers: the Lords and the Commons. The latter was made up of lesser knights and merchants. As time passed, the Commons became increasingly dominant and the King became less powerful. As society moved on and cultures changed, the question arose: How had these people earned their place? How can they represent the public?  Women entered the Lords in 1958. Via Parliament UK

1958 was a watershed year. It was the final year that debutantes were presented to the Queen. And at the end of the previous year, the Wolfenden Report (AKA the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution) was published. Although it took another 10 years for homosexuality to be decriminalised in Britain, Wolfenden is important because it recommended "that public statutes avoid the attempt to legislate morality and that they concern themselves only with sexual acts that offend public decency or disrupt order." 

The Lords Act of 1999 reduced the number of hereditary members in the House of Lords and stopped them passing their seats on through families. Read about Tony Blair's introduction of the first people's peers in 2011, here.

A crossbench peer is not a member of a political party. Lola Young is a crossbench peer.

Outgoing Black Rod David Leakey.

Outgoing Black Rod David Leakey.

DOORKEEPERS. House of Lords doorkeepers serve in the department of the Black Rod. Since since 1349, under the reign of Edward III, Black Rod has been the name of given to the House of Lords' principal doorkeeper, who is responsible for access, order and discipline—and required to keep an eye on Members’ behaviour. At the State Opening of Parliament, the Queen enters the House of Lords, and dons her official robes in the Robing Room. The Black Rod is sent to the Commons to summon the MPs. This involves knocking on the door with special stick, and then having the door slammed in their face - to symbolise the independence of Parliament from the Monarch.

The Black Rod's ceremonial dress includes: black stockings, white tie, breeches & patent buckled slippers. I know. In 2017, the Queen appointed the first woman Black Rod in the role's 669 year history: Sarah Clarke.

There are also House of Commons doorkeepers, and they also wear uniform. Every new doorkeeper is measured for their suit by a Savile Row tailor, and given an allowance to buy white shirts, white gloves, bow ties, breeches, tights and buckle-down shoes. Read about the history of the doorkeepers here

DRESS CODES. Doorkeepers are the only ones to don ceremonial clothes at Westminster. Men are required to wear a jacket and tie in the House of Lords chamber. Women "should be appropriately dressed". In the House of Commons, traditionally the speaker, who presides over the debates, dresses in a ceremonial black robe. The Speaker's waistcoat, cuffs and winged collar were abandoned by John Bercow when he took up the post in 2010, who preferred to wear a lounge suit and tie under his gown. His predecessors Betty Boothroyd and Michael Martin abandoned the long-bottomed wig, knee breeches and tights. The last Speaker to kit himself out in the whole garb was Bernard Weatherill, who served in the role from 1983 to 1992. Via BBC 

In 2013, Green MP Caroline Lucas stood up to speak in a "No more page three" slogan tee, and was told to put a jacket on. She complied. 

MODERN SLAVERY LEGISLATION. An estimated 40 million people worldwide are trapped in modern slavery. Next week on the podcast, we'll explore this further.

The UK introduced a Modern Slavery Act in 2015. It requires companies with annual revenues of 36 million quid or more to report on what’s being done to try to get rid their supply chains of modern slavery.

Right now in Australia we’re going through a similar process. Here, the proposed bill would apply to businesses with revenues of more than $100 million a year. The Law Council of Australia says it doesn’t go far enough.

In the UK, Lola Young's private members bill seeks to extend the Act to cover public contracts. Bedtime reading? Access Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act UK here.

A lot to take in? Let's have a short break...

Watch Lola's speech to students at University of the Arts London below:

Remind yourself of just how fabulous GRACE JONES is below. She released She’s Lost Control in 1980. 

Everybody appreciates SNAP, right? (Clare is showing her age.)

NOW, back to work...

"To Be a Voice for Change is not just about tone, it’s also about context. Fashion is political, from our individual actions and choices, to the power of its major industries and economies." - Centre for Sustainable Fashion, LCF

A meeting of the APPG on  Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion    i

A meeting of the APPG on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion i

APPG stands for all-party parliamentary group. Lola established the APPG on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion in 2009. Involved from the start were, among others, Kate Fletcher and professor Dilys Williams, founder of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion.

So this is what a Select Committee does... In case you were wondering.

RANA PLAZA. To learn more, listen to Episode 5 of this podcast, with Bangladeshi garment worker union leader Kalpona Akter.


CONTROVERSY OVER UZBEK COTTON. "Every year the Governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, force hundreds of thousands of people out of their regular jobs and sends them to the cotton fields to toil for weeks in arduous and hazardous conditions. Some have died in fields from extreme heat and accidents." Via Anti-Slavery Org.

LEICESTER. The East Midlands is an important manufacturing hub for many UK fashion brands and retailers. Centred on Leicester, the region specialises in 'fast fashion'. Mainly small, highly flexible companies can turn around orders, from design to product to shop floor, within 12 days. Via Ethical Trade Org. 

There are close to 600 manufacturers there, accounting for 30% of UK garment manufacturing. Says Ethical Trade: "We commissioned research from the University of Leicester’s Centre for Sustainable Work and Employment Futures, which confirmed retailers’ concerns. Where previously there was conjecture and ad hoc revelations of exploitation, the University found evidence of serious and endemic labour rights issues.

  • Significant numbers of workers paid below minimum wage levels.
  • Absence of employment contracts.
  • Excessive and under reported working hours.
  • Health and safety violations.
  • Limited enforcement of labour regulations and standards.

The reasons are varied. They range from criminality, local mismanagement and unauthorised subcontracting to a lack of clarity over retailers’ costings and purchasing practices."  

MODERN SLAVERY & RACISM Lola reminds us of the unfortunate fact that, “More brown skinned people have to die in order to make the news” than white people do. She mentions the fact that 111 cubans died in a plane crash in 2018. Read TIME's coverage here. She also mentions this horrific slave trade expose: "Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not 'merchandise' at all, but two human beings." CNN's harrowing report on Nigerian men being sold in Libya is here.

Further reading? Lola is the author of a fantastic piece on the history and context of the slave trade for the Guardian. Read "Truth In Chains" here.

MODERN SLAVERY IN THE FISHING INDUSTRY. According to the Seeing Slavery in Seafood Supply Chains report, published in the journal Science Advances, "The seafood supply chain is often long and fragmented, and slavery is a tenacious problem. The vast majority of workers are engaged in the early stages of production and often employed through subcontracts or brokers...In the global seafood industry, flows of raw materials from fishing vessels and aquaculture farms are tracked over long distances with incredible accuracy, but the hands pulling fish from the net disappear from sight. Most consumers are unfamiliar with where and how the largely imported seafood they eat is caught or the sector’s impacts on local livelihoods and fishing communities." But forced labour is rife. "Labour agencies supply a mix of professional crew from seafaring nations such as the Philippines, Chile, or Ukraine, and less-skilled and lower-cost crew from countries such as Myanmar, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia. Less-skilled crew who are working in a foreign language environment without legal standing in the vessel’s flag state are vulnerable to involuntary and unpaid work."

MODERN SLAVERY IN THE MOBILE PHONE INDUSTRY. A 2012 report by the New York Times revealed slave-like conditions in Apple i-phone factories. In 2010, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. 

MODERN SLAVERY IN THE FOOTBALL INDUSTRY.  "Thousands of suspected child slaves from countries including Albania, Afghanistan, Sudan and Vietnam have been uncovered by the British government in recent years - with most trapped in forced labor, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Many of them are first trafficked into Britain by men posing as agents and criminal networks that offer the children and their families the prospect of a lucrative footballing career abroad and a salary to send back home, according to activists." Via Reuters. Read full story here.

KIDS TODAY. Okay, so some of them don't know that carrots grow with green tops. But young people are actually amazing. More of them are questioning how their clothes are made, says Lola, although of course consumers of all ages need to do more to tackle fashion labor abuses. Read story here.


REPRESENTATION & DIVERSITY IN THEATRE. Lola mentions the book Staying Power: The history of black people in Britain, by Peter Fryer. Yes there were black Elizabethans. A University of Warwick study found Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) actors are still being relegated to the back of the stage in productions of Shakespeare, via The Independent.

A note on our MUSIC: it is by our friend Montaigne, who sang a special acoustic version of "Because I love You" just for us. It's from her album Glorious Heights.


Until next time,

Clare x