By: Mike Flanagan
A forthright take on the follies the world’s apparel buying community has to deal with, from Mike Flanagan, CEO of Clothesource – and his suggestions for putting them right.
On 5 October, the 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) announced that their trade ministers had agreed a deal. But Mike Flanagan still doubts it will come into action this decade.
Britain’s Modern Slavery Act (MSA), which began coming into force on 31 July, sets new disclosure standards on an extraordinary number of garment businesses. But its legal niceties won’t really determine the law’s impact, believes Mike Flanagan, noting that public opinion matters more.
Are Bangladesh’s garment factory owners about to destroy their extraordinary apparel success story? On the face of it, the question sounds absurd, writes Mike Flanagan. But neither the BGMEA nor the Bangladesh government have shown any real interest in developing a compliant garment industry.
Can mass-market clothing be made legally - or ethically - in the UK or the US if it’s competing with low-wage production? Not according to Mike Flanagan, who calls Western labour practices "onshoring’s dirty secret."
There’s a huge gap in Bangladesh between two business philosophies: those with realistic profit expectations, and those who are obsessed with controlling costs. And recent events have highlighted just how wide this gulf is, according to Mike Flanagan.
Last May, India overwhelmingly elected Narenrda Modi as Prime Minster. While apparel factory owners thought he was “business friendly,” few showed much public support for his annual budget on 28 February. Buried in the fine detail, there’s a reason both they and their workers might also be annoyed.
There is growing pressure from activists and governments to make Western laws apply to alleged non-compliance in developing country garment factories. But be careful what you wish for, advises Mike Flanagan, who points out that the most likely outcome is that countries will be blacklisted with no effort to improve standards.
Despite the hype, it's amazing how insignificant the internet is on the garment trade, writes Mike Flanagan. While every clothing brand and retailer uses the web for moving, receiving and monitoring information, relatively few clothes are sold this way.
Low-income workers are likely to dominate the global garment-making workforce for a long time yet, Mike Flanagan believes, despite recent forecasts that the number of low-cost countries is dwindling.
In the past six years apparel buyers have moved from avoiding commitment on toxic discharge to likely toxic-free production by the end of the decade. And China has moved from opposing legislation on hazardous chemicals to introducing a legally-enforced programme for eliminating them. Has the industry finally hit a tipping point? asks Mike Flanagan.
A decade-long enthusiasm for cutting trade barriers has come to an end, with sceptical electorates now seeing more downsides than upsides. But trade lobbyists continue to chase new barrier cuts, or defend concessions that have already reached the end of the road.
Will "strong man" politicians kick-start the sluggish garment industries in India and Pakistan? asks Mike Flanagan. Evidence so far, he suggests, shows progress ranges from positive to unconvincing.
The recent strike by workers at a Chinese plant operated by Taiwanese footwear manufacturer Yue Yuen was as much to do with the status of migrant workers as the firm's sharp practice, believes Mike Flanagan. And it certainly doesn't mark the start of a Guangdong Spring uprising.
Retailers and brands are increasingly engineering their operations to make the most of changing trends affecting everything from sourcing to sales. But as Mike Flanagan points out, the model that works for one company is unlikely to work for another. Here he gives some examples.
The term 'backward linkages' - used by commentators a decade ago to describe clothing factories with spinning, weaving and dyeing facilities nearby - seems to be coming back into fashion. But far from being the key to success for garment makers, says Mike Flanagan, neither the commercial nor the environmental case stands up.
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