A new study from the University of Portsmouth together with the Fair-Trade Advocacy Office, highlights that despite significant market challenges, much needs to be done to address power imbalances in garment value chains.

“Unfair Trading Practices in Textile Supply Chains: A Review of Responsible and Fair Purchasing Practices by European Fashion SMEs,” assesses the fair and responsible purchasing practices of European fashion SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises), the barriers to remaining competitive in the current fast fashion industry, and the ways these companies are innovating to shift power dynamics within fashion value chains.

The report includes a case study analysis of companies that are implementing fair and responsible purchasing practices, such as lead times, payment details, prices, discounts, technical specifications, volumes, and stock management. Researchers found that if supported, these companies have the potential to be industry front-runners and demonstrate fair purchasing practices that can be replicated and scaled across the whole garment sector.

Dr Matthew Anderson, senior lecturer in business ethics at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Our data point to the need, once again, to rethink the conceptual framing but also practical application of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its connection to fair purchasing in order to move towards more sustainable and ethical garment value chains.”

The report recommends concrete proposals and stricter measures to address power imbalances in garment value chains:

  • Public policy support is needed to help level the playing field for SMEs and social enterprises. Big brands need to be held accountable for unfair purchasing practices, and regulatory approaches to UTPs in textiles should be developed at the European level, e.g., with an EU Directive.
  • Business associations and support for SMEs are essential in building alliances and coalitions that can shift away from the current norm of associations representing the garment and apparel sector being dominated by big businesses.
  • Supply chain transparency is also essential, including the creation of publicly available factory lists that are accessible to workers and unions.

The release concludes that human rights protection in corporate supply chains must be worker-driven, enforcement-focused, and based on legally binding commitments that assign responsibility for improving working conditions to the global corporations at the top of the supply chain.

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