The infamous Rana Plaza disaster 2013 near Dhaka, Bangladesh which housed 5 major garment factories and led to the death of 1,132 people and injuries to around 2,500 people was a wakeup call to the fashion industry raising a number of management and human rights concerns. We shall discuss below the core ESG issues in the garment industry and a pathway to its sustainability.
Textile Industry and ESG concerns
Textile Industry is said to be one of the most polluting industries globally. As per the World bank report, the textile industry accounts for 10% of the global carbon emissions annually.
At present, the industry is combating with a lot of challenges. Some of them being:-
Vast Supply Chain
Textile industry has a vast supply chain and comprises of various stages. The chain starts right from agriculture, design, procurement of material, manufacturing, processing, fabric care, packaging, transportation, distribution, use, recycling and ends at disposal. These stages produce dangerous effluents, like the wet processing industry which emits massive effluents thereby polluting the rivers. We also often come across reports of human rights violation in this chain where workers are paid below the minimum wage and there are no sufficient safety mechanisms in factories, thus exposing them to high risk of accidents.
There is a need to mitigate environmental and social risk at every stage in this supply chain.
A significant scheme, namely EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) scheme was launched to raise ESG standard in this industry in which certain responsibilities are allocated to producers for the collection and disposal of post-consumer wastes.
Gone are the times when we see an individual wearing the same clothes again and again. Now Fast fashion has simply taken over due to several reasons such as social media glam, companies producing clothes that are cheap and instantly fashionable and to keep up with the crowd around. It has led to a rapid increase in the number of clothes an average individual has, thereby increasing the volume of garment production. The presence of several e-commerce platforms has driven the textile market extensively. It started the trend of ‘Fast Fashion’, thereby creating a heavy demand for the apparel. But is ‘fast fashion’ sustainable enough? It has led to an alarming issue of ‘overproduction’.
How textile Industry can become sustainable?
- Encourage responsible utilization of natural resources such as land, water and energy
- Treatment of waste disposal
- Opting for eco-friendly raw materials
- Usage of recycled polyester
- For the purpose of dyeing, replace chemicals with natural dyes and fibers
- Implementation of clothes recycling programs
- Create consumer awareness by making the consumers interested in buying sustainable fashion.
- Usage of recycled plastic for packaging
- Keep track of not only the production of clothing, but also of how much of this clothing is sold, exported, recycled and goes to the landfill so that the company can plan its sustainability journey accordingly.
- Special attention to worker safety and fair pay mechanism
- Eliminate occupational and health risk of workers
Consequences of anti-social practices in the Textile Industry
Reports of forced labor, workers being paid almost no wage and being made to work in extreme conditions in cotton fields and factories in the Xinjiang region of China, have been doing the rounds recently, as a result of which the US and EU immediately decided to discontinue and ban cotton procurement from China. This move had widespread consequences in the supply chain in the textile industry. The reason being China is one of the largest cotton producers of the world. The US for 18 years has been the largest importer of garments and textiles from China. To condemn human rights violation, the US and EU re-routed their procurement and turned to India and Vietnam to import cotton. Price of cotton immediately shot up across the global markets and consumers started feeling the pinch. Major producers in South India closed down their mills to protest the rising prices as they failed to pass on the higher input costs to consumers.
We all as responsible citizens need to question the concept of fast fashion if it is worth our luxurious lifestyle at the cost of forced labour. In conclusion, every component of sustainability – E, S & G – is equally important and can have out-of-proportion consequences in the global value chains. NOW is the time to ACT.