Blog: Leonie BarrieEthics are not about a price point

Leonie Barrie | 29 March 2016

With a business model focused on offering the lowest prices on the high street, UK value fashion chain Primark is constantly questioned over its commitment to a range of ethical and environmental issues. But in an exclusive interview with just-style, Paul Lister, responsible for Primark's ethical trading team, explains that "the strength of a brand's ethics is not about a price point" – and that close engagement with the supply chain is key.

And jeans giant Levi Strauss & Co has decided to share its innovative Water<Less finishing techniques with the rest of the apparel industry in a bid to encourage water conservation and drive change across the sector. The 21 water-saving methods include a range of applications for denim finishing, including ozone and wash cycle combinations.

Meanwhile, the scale of investment in Ethiopia's apparel and textile sector appears to be accelerating. Some of the largest US and European brands are placing orders, and the government seems committed to building a sourcing hub for the future.

But the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and China's One Belt One Road – two initiatives with the potential to reshape the global sourcing landscape – are mired in uncertainty. What do apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers make of their possible impact?

The TPP is also seen as a looming threat by Mexico's textile sector – while some executives have calculated Donald Trump's proposal to barricade its US border could trigger $2bn in annual trade losses.

And global brands and retailers sourcing from Cambodia are being urged to speak out against a controversial new trade union law being drafted by the country's government. The new legislation is expected to be passed by the National Assembly next month.

A US Department of Labour report has also raised significant concerns about workers' rights and labour law enforcement in Peru's textile and apparel sectors – leading to new questions regarding the labour rights record of a key member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

But a new Fairtrade Textile Standard launched last week to try to improve conditions for workers along the textile and garment supply chain – including the provision of a living wage – has been criticised for pushing costs and responsibility onto suppliers.

US specialty retail giant Gap has made no secret of the fact it faces an uphill battle to turn around its business, but in-house quality mis-steps, coupled with the race against the clock to translate trends from the catwalks to the high street, are making its work doubly difficult.

Apparel giant PVH Corp, the owner of the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger brands, revealed a 30.4% jump in annual earnings, despite what it describes as a "difficult macroeconomic environment" and highly promotional US retail market.

And UK clothing retailer Next Plc is warning of tougher times ahead, cutting its full-year sales estimate and preparing for a fall in earnings.

In other news, the WTO is edging closer to its first multilateral trade pact; US apparel brands and retailers continue to file their fourth-quarter figures; Dollar General plans to open up to 1,000 new stores by 2017; and Nike has booked a 20% increase in third quarter earnings.

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