Textiles

Casting the dye for sustainable sector transformation

China and Bangladesh remain the top textile production countries. Solidaridad continued concentrating its efforts on these production countries by bringing best practices to scale and contributing to solutions for complex issues such as audit duplication and fair living wages. With leading brands on the outlook for new sourcing destinations, Solidaridad began contributing to the sustainable development of the textile sector in countries like Ethiopia and Myanmar as well.

Number of workers affected by projects

 

Number of factories supported

 

Achievements

Brands and retailers are key players in the textile value chain that drive sector transformation through more sustainable buying practices. As an integral part of the Bangladesh PaCT Programme, Solidaridad trained 209 employees in partnership with MADE-BY at the head offices of five PaCT partner brands. In these workshops, buyers and designers gained more understanding of the environmental impact of design and sourcing decisions.

On the topic of fair living wages, Solidaridad started a pilot with the Fair Wage Network, two brands and a few suppliers in China. Besides direct dialogue and work with suppliers to improve wages in China, an extensive assessment of the partner brands’ buying practices is also part of this work. In addition, Solidaridad strengthened engagement with the Dutch market and contributed to the establishment of the sustainable clothing and textile agreement for the Dutch textile sector.

Our work in China and Bangladesh focused on promoting wider uptake of sustainable production techniques at supplier level. The Better Mill Initiative (BMI) in China achieved significant impacts. A total of 38 mills invested in improvements over a period of 15 months which resulted into savings of 6,900 tonnes of chemicals, 138,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and 9.7 million euros in costs. PaCT in Bangladesh, implemented by International Finance Corporation (IFC) in partnership with Solidaridad, provided similarly impressive results.

With a growing interest among brands and retailers in emerging producer economies, we expanded our efforts to  these textile production economies including Ethiopia and Myanmar. The gap assessment related to sustainability issues in the textiles and garment sector in Ethiopia led to a partnership in December 2015 with Sympany to extend BMI from China to Ethiopia. In Myanmar, Solidaridad made a significant contribution in making sustainability an integral part of the industry’s 10-year plan.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • China

    As the Chinese government is setting stricter regulations on wastewater discharge and labour costs in the textiles industry, factories are seeking support from Solidaridad’s Better Mill Initiative in order to achieve compliance.

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  • East & Central Africa

    Solidaridad’s interventions for textile have concentrated in Ethiopia, which is one of the fastest emerging economies in Africa, and is evolving as a potential textile and apparel-sourcing destination. We are convinced that growth of this industry has the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation, create jobs under good working conditions and provide livelihood opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people in the coming decade, particularly women. There is a need to integrate sustainability in Ethiopia right from the start.

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  • The Netherlands

    In the early years of Solidaridad’s textile programme we have shown, together with our corporate partners, that sustainability in the supply chain is possible. However, to achieve sector level transformation we need more brands to engage with sustainability and think about how they can be part of the solution through their design and purchasing practices. This has been the focus of the textiles programme for Solidaridad Netherlands in 2015.

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  • South & South-east Asia

    Solidaridad continues to position itself in a strategic role to bring established best practices to scale; mainstreaming sustainable design and procurement at brand level whilst promoting wider uptake of sustainable production techniques at supplier level. Concurrently, work has also begun in emerging textile producer countries where Solidaridad will seek to ensure the costly lessons from established markets are learnt.

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Developments

The increasing demand for garments world-wide is leading to a search for new sourcing destinations. In the last few years, Solidaridad has seen this labour-intensive sector become established in countries where there is sufficient availability of cheap labour. This encourages a “race to the bottom” which Solidaridad is trying to prevent.

With experience from the past 15 years, Solidaridad knows that a sustainable industry can also be a competitive one, which also allows for sustainable economic growth of the least developed countries. In its role as transition manager at this early stage, Solidaridad sees an opportunity to bring key stakeholders together including brands and retailers, producers, governments, knowledge institutes, the financial sector and civil society organizations to ensure sustainability is part of the sector’s growth strategy.

Production countries such as China and Bangladesh continue to be key in achieving sustainable transformation of the global textile industry. The Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT) and Better Mill Initiative (BMI) are clear examples of Solidaridad’s work in promoting a wider uptake of sustainable production techniques at supplier level. The two programmes – both in their third year of implementation – reached around 180 suppliers.

Programme investments in thousand euros

 

Contracted partners per region excluding producer organizations

 

Partnerships

The key players in the textiles value chain remain brands and retailers, through which Solidaridad influences mills, factories and producers. In 2015, a total of 11 brands, including H&M, G-star, C&A, Lindex and Primark, worked with Solidaridad in an effort to increase textile value chain sustainability.

Since 2014, Solidaridad has had a strategic partnership with H&M. Besides supply chain improvement work, integral elements of this partnership include close communication and being a critical partner. A lot has been achieved through this partnership, yet there is still much to improve. We need to keep challenging each other to take fashion sustainability to the next level.

In addition to brands, Solidaridad actively engages with multi-stakeholder initiatives including the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). Solidaridad supports SAC’s objective to move away from certification toward continual improvement of textile and apparel production through measuring and communicating impact.

Organizations such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), ASN Bank and the Dutch government continue to be key partners for Solidaridad. Together with ASN Bank, Solidaridad launched a highly successful textile campaign in 2015. The Dutch government continues to support and enable our work in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Ethiopia and the Netherlands.

Challenges

We believe our comprehensive approach to textile supply chain sustainability will continue to change the industry. Programmes already have the support of multiple stakeholders including major brands, producers and governments. However, we need to engage with more and new stakeholders and align our efforts to achieve true sector transformation. Developing programmes from the pilot to mainstream phase requires innovative strategies that will drive large-scale adoption by mills and factories across key sourcing regions. This will be a priority for our textile programme in the years ahead.

Ariane Biemond

International Programme Coordinator, Textiles