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Collaboration is key for a sustainable apparel supply chain

  • Published at 11:47 pm November 13th, 2019
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Bold innovation is needed to adapt to the challenges of the day

Few could have predicted the speed with which the climate challenge has unfolded. The world is facing a genuine crisis, and it is up to us, its citizens, to work together to find answers -- to find solutions. 

This is in all our interest. 

Now is not the time for infighting, self interest, or petty squabbles. All of us -- citizens, businesses, governments, civil society groups -- need to look at the big picture and collectively work towards the best solutions.

The good news is we know what we have to do. We know the size and scope of the challenge. We know that the world is heating up and we know that carbon emissions from businesses and citizens are one of the primary causes of this. 

We are all guilty here, and we all have to look at what we can do to address these issues -- individually, but more importantly, collectively.

The challenges we face are huge, and frightening to many. As such, they require bold, brave, and innovative new ways of thinking. Thankfully we are already seeing joined up thinking on these issues, with, for instance, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Kyoto Agreement, and COP21. 

These and other initiatives provide the frameworks within which we can all work and take practical steps.

In the global apparel industry and its supply chains, there are a broad range of initiatives and programs addressing areas such as labour rights, decent work, inclusive growth, and opportunities for challenged communities, social responsibilities, environmental protection, and so on. 

Brands, retailers, and supply chain manufacturers are working at different speeds and tempos on these issues. Some are leading, while others follow, some are doing much while others stand idle. But to make progress and avert environmental catastrophe, we must all be doing our part. 

Now is not the time for free-loaders, for organizations which bask in the sunlight of those who genuinely are making lasting change.

All must play their part. 

Businesses must also understand that collaboration makes business sense. Investors are now demanding compliance and sustainability from businesses they invest in. Investment groups also recognize the valuable work being done by collaborative organizations such as the SAC and ZDHC, and realize that members of such organizations place a high emphasis on compliance.

Collaboration is required for the following reasons:

•    To keep alignment among stakeholders across world towards common objectives and deliverables 

•    To create an enabling environment for others to engage in sustainable actions

•    To avoid overlaps in initiatives and wastage of resources.

•    To strengthen the initiative of one by many who may not have the expertise but has direct stake in the business 

How can we create an enabling environment for effective collaboration?

•    By increasing transparency in supply chains

•    Through the introduction of policies and legislation that ensure common standards across international borders. All must be playing by the same rules  

•    By cost sharing to create scale economies

Some examples of how things are going wrong due to lack of collaboration

•    Audit fatigue: Multiple standards in social and environmental compliance and audit fatigue which only generates business for auditors but does not help buyers or suppliers to improve overall standards 

•    Industrial disasters: Catastrophes like Rana Plaza are testimony to the fact that collaboration and mutual understanding is seriously lacking in the global supply chain. Such disasters were met with a complete lack of accountability and this, in turn, is due to a lack of industry transparency. Thankfully, things are changing on this front

•    Labor exploitation: While buyers are demanding quality and fast delivery, declining prices are a continued trend in apparel supply chains. This puts millions of people who are involved in manufacturing at the risk of exploitation. The issue of labour costs and living wages must be shared right along the supply chain. We must collaborate on this issue

•    Sourcing practices: Sourcing practices of some of the brands represent a major threat to sustainability in the apparel supply chain. Lack of business forecasting, no coordination between buyers and the compliance department around pricing, continued requests for free samples, demands for short or delayed shipment, calling for major discounts for minor mistakes -- all of these are epidemic in the industry. If this picture does not change, honest and true collaboration cannot be achieved 

So, to pursue sustainability, we need collaboration between stakeholders and development partners, and the major preconditions to achieve the right spirit of collaboration among all are -- 

•    Win for all spirit 

•    Sharing cost and responsibility 

•    Full transparency in the supply chain by all stakeholders to establish trust 

•    Policies to ensure enforcement and level playing field  

•    Knowledge, awareness, motivation 

•    Stop overlapping projects 

Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected]