Cultural appropriation is a hot topic right now — especially as festival season continues on in full swing. While retailers continue to sell pieces “inspired” by different cultures, the question remains: Is that appropriation, or is it appreciation? Well, if it’s a case of the former, it may soon be illegal — thanks to indigenous activists who are calling on the United Nations.
Fortunately, the UN is taking notice, and delegates from over 180 countries are meeting in Geneva to discuss the possibility of making cultural appropriation illegal.
Although there has been a push for this since 2001, the delegates are now acting on the issue by coming together as a specialized international committee. They will be operating under the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The goal of the meeting is to push three international laws to protect indigenous property, whether it be language or a design. According to CBC News, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, spoke to the committee on Monday, and stated that the UN should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”
Fast fashion brands have gotten in trouble for products like Urban Outfitters’ “navajo” line back in 2011, and major fashion houses like Chanel have sent headdresses down the runway. If these laws are put in place, this sort of appropriation won’t be tolerated any longer.
Our hope is that the UN takes this claim seriously, and that companies and brands are held responsible for taking “inspiration” from marginalized groups. After all, if they want to utilize a certain cultural style or perspective, they can always employ artisans from that culture.
Hopefully, after 16 years of petitioning, the United Nations will do something about cultural appropriation.