It will be impossible to forget that the fashion and textiles industry was rocked by the second largest industrial disaster in history during 2013. The Rana Plaza factory collapse took the lives of nearly 1,200 garment workers in Bangladesh and forced the apparel and textiles sector to put the lens on the way clothing is made.
It took weeks for some major global retailers to determine whether their clothes were made by those factories in the Rana Plaza building. A few companies were literally scrambling to figure out what contracts they had with whom, where, for what products and for how long a business relationship lasted.
Considering one retailer alone might source from thousands of factories at a time and tend to drop and add new suppliers within the year, months or even weeks, it becomes a challenge for a company to know exactly whom they are working with at any given time.
And that’s just on the surface level the first tier. What became evident after Rana Plaza is that some companies didn’t have contracts with the factories operating in the building yet clothing with their brand labels were found in the wreckage. Brands had contracts with factories that may have been illegally sub-contracting out work to unchecked factories in Rana Plaza. Unfortunately, this type of ‘non-compliance’ is common.
It’s become obvious that a lack of adequate supply chain transparency and traceability is putting the entire industry at risk and making it extra difficult to respond quickly when things do go wrong.
And the risk increases as you dive deeper into supply chains, beyond that first tier. When a company tries to look at the other stakeholders in its supply chain the mills, the spinners, the dyehouses, cotton growers, etc. the water gets even murkier. A recent study suggests that non-compliances increase 18% in the second tier and 27% in the third. In other words, less visible suppliers are often failing to meet social and environmental standards. Fashion companies simply cannot afford to not know, or even further not understand, what’s happening across a supply chain from fibre to final product.
For 2014, transparency and traceability is going to be top of the wider fashion and textiles industry agenda.
What we mean by transparency and traceability has aptly been defined by journalist Robb Young as “the disclosure of information relating to material sources, manufacturers and other suppliers in order for all stakeholders, including end consumers, to have a complete and accurate picture of the ethical and environmental impact of a product.”
The Future of Textiles is Transparent and Sustainable
The good news is that a shift towards ethical and sustainable business for fashion and textiles is happening and at a seemingly faster pace and more seriously than ever before.