Chantelle Mayo talks about advocating for ethical fashion

Chantelle Mayo, Advocacy Project Manager at Baptist World Aid and Australian Human Rights Institute Intern in 2018, tells us about her work.
Photo: Chantelle Mayo at graduation

Chantelle Mayo, Advocacy Project Manager at Baptist World Aid, was an Australian Human Rights Institute Intern in 2018. Chantelle spoke to Gabrielle Dunlevy about her work, and her advice for students who are looking to work in the field of human rights development.

Tell us about your work

Since October last year I’ve been working as Advocacy Project Manager at Baptist World Aid, which produces the annual Ethical Fashion Report. We just released our 2020 COVID Special Edition, the COVID Fashion Report and Guide.

The main part of my role is to deliver the annual Ethical Fashion Report. This involves project managing the Report from beginning to end, conducting research through engaging with fashion companies and industry stakeholders, and creating compelling communication strategies which educate consumers on worker exploitation in the fashion industry, including how they can contribute to long-lasting change when they shop!

This year, everyone felt the impact of COVID and adapting the Report to respond to issues facing workers during 2020 has been the key area of focus for us, which has been really interesting.

In March COVID took a severe turn and we realised that our standard research methodology wouldn’t be possible for many companies this year. The retail industry was in a lot of distress, and we had to change tack. Within about a month we turned the project around to be much more focused on the impact of COVID-19 on garment workers around the world, who are being massively impacted by job loss, wage theft, heightened threat of violence, falling into poverty and being pushed into more dangerous circumstances – and we began talking to companies about the immediate measures they were taking in 2020 to mitigate the risks to the most vulnerable workers in their supply chain.

We released the Report in late October, which was a really exciting achievement! In terms of the results we saw, we were happy to see that companies that had invested in improving their ethical sourcing practices in good times, were also in a better position to respond to the risks facing garment workers in times of crisis. At the same time no company could show an end-to-end supply chain response, so there's still a long way to go.

Now that the Report is out, we’ll be looking to how we take our original methodology and what we’ve learned in 2020 and take it forward in the next Report, and I’m really excited to see where we go from here.

How did your internship help you on the way to this job?

My first interaction with corporate advocacy and human rights issues was in the first semester of my Master of Human Rights Law and Policy, in Introduction to Human Rights Law with Justine Nolan. It was a discussion on the Ethical Fashion Report, which is crazy to look back on now!

It made me very interested in how businesses can have an impact on human rights issues around the world, for good and for bad.

I chose to intern with the Australian Human Rights Institute because of its focus on business and gender, and was fortunate to be able to conduct research and attend events that expanded on my knowledge and skills in these areas.

One semester-long project had me assessing how major human rights issues in south-east Asian countries were addressed in domestic law and evaluate how local policing, cultural norms and business practices aided or restricted the elimination of these issues, while a shorter task had me researching the relationship between cybersecurity and human rights – so I was exposed to a really wide variety of situations where businesses have an essential role to play in human rights.

I was asked to go along and live tweet an event on energy and one of the speakers there had started a not-for-profit providing energy resources in rural India. (Kat Kimmorley from Pollinate) was emphasising that where governments aren’t acting quickly enough or prioritising innovation, businesses – in this case engineering and telecommunications businesses - could speed up progress. I still remember that very vividly.

I was also fortunate to attend a consultation with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, which placed a gender lens over human rights issues facing the global workforce. This one in particular fuelled an interest in the fashion industry, which is primarily comprised of female workers. I also got a small paid position as editor on the 16 Days Blogathon, which was really phenomenal because I was speaking with academics from all over the world who were writing about really interesting topics facing women.

My internship really opened my eyes to this area of human rights work, and it gave me an understanding of and ability to research the relationship between business practices and human rights. Most importantly it exposed me to people already passionately working in this industry, and made me want to join them!

How did you land the role, and what is your advice to students who are aiming for a career in human rights?

It’s not easy to get into human rights, for many reasons. There’s not a lot of jobs going, and a lot of organisations maybe hire once or twice a year for entry-level roles. I knew I wanted to work in human rights development and share stories that could inspire change, so for me the key was just not stopping pursuing that goal. When I was studying the Masters, I was knocked back from so many different jobs! I won’t deny that it got a bit discouraging, but because I was doing my internship, attending every UNSW lecture on human rights that I could, and was volunteering with a refugee services organisation, I was able to keep my goal in mind.

When I found the job advertisement for Baptist World Aid I thought – oh wow, it’s the Ethical Fashion Report! It is business and gender and human rights with an advocacy lens – the advocacy was really important to me because educating and informing people is so essential to human rights work. I thought, this has to be the one (job) that I get - but the job ad had expired eight days before.

I thought, I’ll give them a call, there’s nothing to lose. I called maybe three times trying to get through to recruitment and fortunately they said yes, send an application! I had an interview not too long afterwards, and when they hired me, they said one reason was the fact I had called and asked to apply late. They liked it because it had shown my passion for the job, because I didn’t want to let it go.

My internship with the Australian Human Rights Institute was also a large factor, because it gave me the work experience my degree alone didn’t.

To students wanting to work in this sector, I would say that if there’s anything you would love to do, even if it seems there’s something standing in the way, just give it a go. I’d also advise reaching out to people whose jobs sound interesting or who work in sectors that interest you to learn about their experiences. There are so many jobs that I just didn’t know about until I was right there hearing about it from someone in that role, so it can be really helpful to get a better idea of the type of role that would suit you, your interests and your skillset. Ultimately, make the extra phone call, do the internship, volunteer, whatever is possible for you. Stay true to your goal!

The Special Edition COVID Fashion Report surveys more than 400 favourite fashion brands on what they’ve done to protect the dignity of garment workers and sustainability of the planet during the pandemic. Read more at Baptist World Aid.

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