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November 4, 2022

SAC presses for urgent action on ‘systemic sustainability issues’

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has urged industry collaboration on tackling “systemic sustainability and human rights issues”.

By Hannah Abdulla

At an in-person meeting held in Singapore this month, The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), garment brands, retailers and manufacturers explored crucial sustainability conversations as the climate crisis gathers momentum.

The non-profit organisation brought together around 500 representatives from the entire apparel and footwear value chain to address urgent systemic issues relating to human rights and the climate crisis, both in-person and virtually.

With the theme Collective Action on Common Ground, the two-day event kicked off with a keynote speech from SAC’s CEO Amina Razvi, who stressed the need for a “radical transformation” of the entire sector in the context of sustainability and the climate emergency and said it is “key that the global south has a voice and role” in this as the industry looks toward a just transition.

She said the enormity and urgency of the challenges ahead can only be addressed by collaboration and equal partnership – underlining that competitiveness must be temporarily put to one side while fashion’s environmental and social problems are solved.

Calling for unity and cooperation, she added: “We need to establish, listen for and emphasise the shared objective. Finding this common ground is essential because, without it, we can’t move forward. It’s industry versus activists, natural vs synthetic, growth vs degrowth, global north vs global south.

“We will not succeed in solving systemic challenges if we are stuck in the same loops, unwilling and unable to move forward from entrenched positions. Instead, we need to learn how to embrace feedback and transform it into opportunities, always moving towards our shared objectives – creating the delicate balance between advocating and listening.”

In another discussion at the SAC-hosted event, Jeannie Renne-Malone, who leads the global sustainability function at VF Corporation, stressed the importance of working in partnership: “One million people from across the globe are responsible for making our products. We have a responsibility to protect and uplift all those across our supply chain and operations.”

“This entails having partnerships from the very beginning. For example, we don’t want to design a regenerative agriculture strategy without having farmers at the table with us. This is their livelihoods.”

Anne Patricia Sutanto from the International Apparel Federation called for action from all actors in industry: “Supply chains can only do so much. At the end of the day we need brands and customers to engage in better buying and wearing practices, if we want to truly ensure no one is left behind.”

The SAC showcased the way more than 21,000 organisations globally are using its tools, the Higg Index, designed to lead the industry towards a better place. From those using the FEM (Facility Environmental Module) to work with its value chain on water use to others using the BRM (Brand & Retail Module) to report on Scope 3 emissions.

The Higg consumer-facing transparency tool has come under fire recently with several European competition watchdogs saying it is insufficient as a tool to stand up brand’s green claims.

In June, the CEO of the SAC Amina Razvi, confirmed the decision to “pause the consumer-facing transparency programme globally” as it works with the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) and other consumer agencies and regulators to better understand how to substantiate product-level claims with trusted and credible data.

It came after the Norwegian Consumer Agency (Forbrukertilsynet) said it believed Norrøna is “breaking the law” in marketing clothes as environmentally friendly and it issued a warning to H&M GROUP against using the same type of environmental claims. The Norwegian Consumer Agency has concluded that this tool from the SAC is “not sufficient as a basis for the environmental claims they have used in marketing.”

Then, in September, The Norwegian Consumer Council, together with the Dutch Authority for Consumer and Markets (ACM) issued joint guidance around the use of the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI).

The SAC responded: “We’re working through crucial insights and learnings from the pilot to inform a repositioning of the programme to ensure it is driving a positive impact.”

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