​benetton announce €2m for women’s empowerment projects

The colourful Italian knitwear brand have announced a major social initiative to improve the lives of women and make the world a better place as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations.

by Charlotte Gush
23 October 2015, 4:17pm

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Benetton have committed €2 million for projects that aim to empower women by effecting change in five key development areas. Mirroring the United Nations' recently announced sustainable development goals for 2030, the Benetton Women Empowerment initiative aims to help women in five key areas: sustainable livelihood, non-discrimination and equal opportunities, quality education, healthcare, and an end to all forms of violence.

The initial focus will be on women working in the textiles and garment industry in Asia, though Benetton say the full scope of the initiative should reach more women than just those working in their supply chain, and will even extend to countries where the brand is not currently active.

Although no specific projects have yet been announced, Benetton have set up a Sustainability Committee, which includes external, independent members, to select partners for Benetton to work with -- the partners will likely include NGOs, governments, charities and, importantly, local, on-the-ground organisations. Training, healthcare, safety in the workplace and microcredit (small loans) are potential areas of focus for projects, and each project will have pre-defined goals so that their efficacy can be measured against key performance indicators.

Though Benetton are certainly not a small brand, they acknowledge that no one company can achieve these goals for all women around the globe. They hope the programme will encourage other fashion retailers, and indeed other non-fashion companies, to follow their lead, emphasising that they hope to create sustainable development models that can be successfully replicated by others. Worldwide Communications Director Gianluca Pastore explained at a press briefing yesterday at Fabrica, the company's education centre in Treviso, Italy, "It's not about competition, but cooperation".

It's aIso not about charity, according to Mariarosa Cutillo, who is heading up the Women Empowerment programme. "I deeply believe that what we are presenting now, it's not charity, it's completely different," she told i-D. "When we think of charity, it's business as usual and then provide some money at the end of the day for poverty, for other needs; but here, it's something different: we want to change business, we want to change society".

Alongside the Women Empowerment initiative, Benetton are celebrating their 50th anniversary by launching four new fashion collections, inspired by the Benetton archive, ballet, carnival colours and sport, respectively. These collections feature in a new advertising campaign, called 'A Collection of Us,' which celebrates the stories of women who have been involved in the fight for women's emancipation and empowerment, whether through a personal challenge like making it in the male-dominated world of cheffing, or campaigning for sexual freedom and reproductive rights.

The campaign isn't anywhere near as shocking as the brand's famous social and political imagery from the 80s and 90s, such as pictures of people on death row, or dying of AIDs, shot by photographer Oliviero Toscani, or more recently the mock photographs of opposing political leaders kissing; but this is deliberate according to Benetton's Chief Marketing Officer John Mollanger. "[Toscani's campaigns] were really directed towards awareness, and for that they've done a great job. This time around, we have the ambition to have a really strong level engagement," he says, explaining that it is a move from "finger pointing" over a social issue, to "doing something about it".

Find out more about the Benetton Women Empowerment initiative at we.benetton.com.