Textiles

Next Steps Toward Scalable Sustainable Sector Transformation

Solidaridad believes a sustainable industry can also be a competitive one. To ensure sustainability is part of the sector’s growth strategy, it continues to bring key stakeholders together and sustainable practices to scale. Meanwhile, Solidaridad has seen continued expansion into countries where there is a large availability of cheap labour. Further, due to a lack of scalability of many improvement programmes, the environmental impact of washing, dyeing and finishing textiles is not decreasing.

Number of workers affected by projects

 

Achievements

The Partnership for Cleaner Textiles (PaCT), the Fair Wage project, Solidaridad’s partnership with QuizRR and the Better Mill Initiative are examples of Solidaridad’s work at a supplier level to promote a broad adoption of sustainable production techniques and working conditions. Through these programmes, Solidaridad has been able to reach approximately 10 suppliers in China, 200 suppliers in Bangladesh, and 18 suppliers in Ethiopia.

The PaCT programme in Bangladesh was concluded in mid-2017. Solidaridad released the final version of the “Decision Support Guidance” tool, which was distributed to the programme’s partners. This tool provides a means of influencing environmental outcomes at a factory level through product design, development and sourcing decision-making.

Solidaridad finalized a pilot project for fair wages and purchasing practices. Results indicated that without employees being directly involved in implementation, a project is unlikely to be successful or scalable. Therefore, Solidaridad began a new partnership with QuizRR, an educational tool and platform for the training and improvement of suppliers and global buyers.

Solidaridad strengthened its engagement with the Dutch market and expanded its reach to 55 signatory brands. In addition, Solidaridad acted as part of the steering committee and several working groups which contributed to the first year of the implementation of the sustainable clothing and textile agreement for the Dutch textile sector.

Due to the success of the Better Mill Initiative in Ethiopia, Solidaridad expanded the scope of its programme in 2017. Currently, Solidaridad works directly with 12 local textile factories on cleaner production and decent work.

In Myanmar, Solidaridad and the PMU unit of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association provided support to PyoePin. The goal is to integrate social sustainability principles into the new National Occupational Competency Standards that are being developed. This innovative approach embeds training related social dialogue and gender dynamics into nationally accredited TVET training for the garment and textile industry. Solidaridad will continue to support this process and formulate policy recommendations to support access to accredited training.

Solidaridad’s work in China and Bangladesh focused on promoting the broad adoption of sustainable production techniques at a supplier level. The fourth phase of the Better Mill Initiative in China achieved significant impact. This resulted in a total of eight mills receiving investment in improvements over a period of a year. This resulted in savings of 2 million tonnes of water, 10 million kWh of electricity, 6,084 tonnes of chemicals, 16,866 tonnes of CO2 emissions, and 23.67 million Chinese yuan in costs.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • China

    The Better Mill Initiative led to a total of 80 improvement measures being implemented by eight mills over 15 months. This covered seven targeted topics of water and energy consumption, wastewater, air emissions, solid waste, chemical management, and occupational health and safety. Improvements achieved in 2017 translated to savings of 2 million tonnes of water, 17,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions reduction and 23.67 million Chinese yuan (RMB) in costs. The Better Mill Initiative online tool has been developed and is now under further improvement.

  • East & Central Africa

    In 2016, Sympany Foundation and Solidaridad embarked on a three-year partnership to drive sustainability in the Ethiopian textile and garment sector and in 2017, Solidaridad approved additional budget to match funding of Sympany. This will improve sustainable employment for 30,000 workers and promote cleaner production. Activities were expanded by eight additional factories under the Better Mill Initiative, reaching 12 factories with direct technical support services. Crucial partnerships have been established with stakeholders including the Ethiopian Textile Industry Development Institute and the Ethiopian Textile Garment & Manufacturers’ Association.

  • South & South-east Asia

    The Partnership for Cleaner Textiles programme achieved a water savings of 21.6 billion litres. With improved processes and chemical inputs, a total of 18.8 billion litres of wastewater was avoided. The Social Development Department programme under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Netherlands complemented work at the supplier level by providing tools to embed training on social dialogue in technical and vocational education, as well as training policies for the garment and textile sector.

Developments

Due to a lack of scalability of many improvement programmes, the environmental impact of washing, dyeing and finishing textiles is not decreasing. Brands’ purchasing practices are not improving, and social working conditions including wages remain largely inadequate. In recent years, Solidaridad has seen a continuation of the expansion of this labour-intensive sector in countries where there is a large availability of cheap labour. This leads to a further “race to the bottom”, which Solidaridad is trying to prevent.

Solidaridad believes a sustainable industry can also be a competitive one. Further, such an industry can allow for sustainable economic growth of the least developed countries. To give upcoming countries a sustainable kick-start, and to ensure sustainability is part of the sector’s growth strategy, Solidaridad is continuing to bring key stakeholders together. In countries such as Ethiopia and Myanmar this includes bringing brands and retailers, producers, governments, knowledge institutes, the financial sector and civil society organizations together.

Partnerships

In 2017, Solidaridad continued working with a total of 12 brands, including H&M, G-star, C&A, Lindex and Primark in programmes such as the Better Mill Initiative, PaCT and Fair Wages. Solidaridad also engaged with local partners such as the Ethiopian Textiles Industry Development Institute, MGMA, Zhejiang University, Sustainable Textiles Solutions, and Hangzhou Boca Network Technology.

Solidaridad started to work with 55 brands that have signed the Dutch agreement on sustainable garments and textiles. It signed a memorandum of understanding with QuizRR, a new partner in training factory workers on topics like worker engagement, rights and responsibilities, and wage management.

Solidaridad continues to engage with North American brands looking to strengthen supply chain sustainability standards.

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 and toward continual improvement of textile and apparel production through measuring and communicating impact. Solidaridad forms part of the steering committee of the Social and Labor Convergence project supported by the SAC and over 160 signatory brands.

Organizations such as the International Finance Corporation, ASN Bank and the Dutch government continue to be key partners. The Dutch government continues to support and enable Solidaridad’s work in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Ethiopia and the Netherlands. The German Development Agency, GIZ, is a new partner involved in setting up a public and private dialogue as well as a research platform that will focus on water quality and quantity impacts of the textile industry.

Challenges

Solidaridad believes a comprehensive approach to textile supply chain sustainability is needed to change the industry. There are many improvement programmes with support of multiple stakeholders, like major brands, producers and governments. But not all of these programmes have proven to be scalable, reached the complete value chain or can be implemented without public funding.

Therefore, Solidaridad will focus on engagement with more stakeholders to align efforts to achieve sustainable 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 Solidaridad’s textile programme in the years ahead.

Tamar Hoek

International Programme Coordinator, Textiles