According to a new research report released by Innovation Forum, a purpose-driven organization based in London, the garment industry need more collaboration and transparency. The report looks at how the cotton industry is evolving in terms of transparency, the issues of viscose production, and how to increase social compliance within supply chains.
The 'Sustainable Apparel Barometer 2021,' this year's state of innovation report educating and motivating effective action towards ethical and climate-positive fashion and apparel, finds that brands and NGOs are working hard to develop a truly sustainable cotton supply chain.
The report states that many companies in the sector are collaborating with growers and providing better training programs. Organic cotton is becoming more popular among brands. And there is a shift away from the mass balance supply chain approach toward fully traceable cotton.
The report indicates that the cotton industry's largest concern is the continued use of forced labor in Chinese supply chains, particularly in the Xinjiang area. Given that China produces 30% of the world's cotton and Xinjiang produces 85% of the country's crop, the report concludes that any brand using Chinese cotton in its supply chain will be affected.
The viscose sector, too, faces substantial difficulties and opportunities, according to the report. Viscose, which is made from wood pulp, has been related to deforestation threats, and the industry has been linked to sourcing from vulnerable areas such as the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the Amazon basin, and Canada's boreal forests.
Another issue is that viscose production is chemically intensive and possibly polluting, with chemicals being employed at every stage of the process. A number of environmental activists groups have pressed the industry to do more to address the risks associated with sourcing and production.
The research from 2021 shows that there is still a knowledge gap in the viscose industry about what sustainable viscose management means, particularly in terms of avoiding deforestation. Certification can help produce sustainably sourced wood pulp, and there are a variety of efforts striving to ensure that chemicals are used responsibly and safely in the industry. The report indicates that garment brands’ and retailers' attitudes on forest fibers are changing and that more industry-wide debate is needed to spur greater engagement.
The report also highlights that over the last two decades, the apparel industry has been marked by a lack of social compliance, with numerous cases of child labor, poor salaries, labor rights violations, and discrimination. Despite the advent of various social performance standards and a significant auditing and certification sector, these issues persist. The report mentions that governments are frustrated by the lack of progress and there is a growing trend toward mandated due diligence rules governing supply chains.
The report concludes that a three-way approach, focusing on significantly greater collaboration, is required to identify what a credible strategy may look like. To begin with, the current jumble of standards and techniques should be streamlined and harmonized. Second, brands in the garment sector should commit to reform and collaborate with one another and others in the value chain to do so. Third, more work has to be done to fully understand the societal context of garment supply chain difficulties.
Textile Exchange, Asia Pacific Rayon (APR), Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), and the US Cotton Trust Protocol assisted Innovation Forum in the work for the 2021 report.
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