Blog: Hannah AbdullaSustainability in supply chains remains front of mind for industry

Hannah Abdulla | 27 March 2019

Environmental and social responsibility in garment and footwear supply chains remains front of mind for the industry. In a bid to help the sector make risk-informed decisions and gear it for more responsible production and consumption patterns, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the European Commission (EC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and private sector partners are developing the Decent Work Transparency and Traceability Tool.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is also taking steps to improve transparency and corporate accountability for garment workers' rights in global supply chains and is now requiring its company affiliates to publicly disclose their supplier lists. And the United Nations (UN) officially launched the 'UN Alliance on Sustainable Fashion' with the goal of creating an industry-wide push for action to reduce fashion's negative social, economic and environmental impacts. It aims to improve collaboration between UN agencies by analysing their efforts in making fashion sustainable, identifying solutions and gaps in their actions, and presenting these findings to governments to trigger policy. Meanwhile, Swedish apparel retailer H&M has announced plans to phase out conventional cashmere as part of its 2030 goal to only use sustainably sourced materials.

In a bid to support the next generation of industry entrepreneurs, Inditex, owner of Zara and Pull & Bear brands, is to contribute over US$4m to multi-year projects with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which will research global sustainability initiatives and data analysis applications for the textile industry. And ten new start-ups focusing on innovative data management, new materials, dyeing technology, and end of use solutions are among the latest batch of innovations in the Fashion for Good Plug and Play Accelerator that will be nurtured for their potential to accelerate the shift to a circular fashion industry.

At this year's American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) Executive Sumit 2018, president and CEO Rick Helfenbein once again said he was "worried" about tariffs which had caused damage to businesses and supply chains and hoped for a potential trade deal with China. He also noted a shift in shopping habits among consumers is "wreaking havoc" on retail. Separately, Helfenbein mulled the consequences of President Trump's flawed trade strategy – including long-lasting damage to global supply chains. In China itself, the introduction of an environmental protection tax bumped up the price of textiles produced in the country – thereby increasing costs for Chinese clothing manufacturers. However, concerns that the new technological investments needed to reduce manufacturers' liability under the law would cause widespread closures of units have not come to pass.

Globalisation has given apparel a good ride, but at what cost asks Olah Inc's Robert Antoshak. In an analysis piece, he considers how the industry will grow or not in the future. And while much of the apparel industry has voiced concerns of a no-deal Brexit, UK retailer Next Plc says it has estimated savings of up to GBP15m in tariffs that would be passed on to shoppers through lower prices.

In other news, Bangladesh said it is eyeing duty benefits on US cotton garments and Sri Lanka has set its sights on ambitious apparel export growth. Numbers were out from Nike, Li & Fung and Ted Baker.

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