Video Discussion Questions:
#1 Why do you agree or disagree with the video that automation will post a significant challenge to garment workers in developing countries such as Bangladesh? How should policymakers react to the challenges?
#2 Can automation be a permanent solution to the social responsibility problem in the garment industry?
#3 In your view, how will automation affect the big landscape of apparel sourcing and the patterns of world textile and apparel trade?
#4 Why or why not do you anticipate a sizable return of apparel manufacturing to the United States if apparel production can be largely automated?
Additional reading: The robots are coming for garment workers. (WSJ, 2018)
Please feel free to share your views and join our online discussion!
#1 How shall we describe the relationship between the Alliance and the Accord? Are they collaborators or competitors? Do you think the Alliance and the Accord can join forces?
#2 How many inspectors are “enough” for Bangladesh? The case study mentions that the Alliance and the Accord are observing around 2,000 factories, but how about the other 3,000 in Bangladesh? And how about those unknown and “undocumented” factories, where the working conditions could be even worse?
#3 Do Western fashion brands genuinely care about what is happening in the Bangladeshi garment factories? Or do they actually care about their own interests—profit, public image and reputation among consumers?
#4 What has made Western fashion brands stay in Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy instead of moving their sourcing orders to other Asian countries in the area such as Cambodia and Vietnam?
#5 How transparent should be companies’ supply chain? Should fashion brands be required to disclose more supply chain information—such as where their products were made and who made them? What could be the difficulty of enforcing a more transparent apparel supply chain?
#6 In addition to more frequent inspections, what other measures can be taken to improve social responsibility practices in the garment industry?
#7 Four years after the Rana Plaza, are you satisfied with the changes that have happened in Bangladesh? What major social responsibility problems in the Bangladeshi garment industry remain unsolved?
[Please feel free to join our online discussion. For the purpose of convenience, please mention the question # in your reply/comment.]
The report can be downloaded from HERE
Key findings of the study:
While the majority of respondents remain confident about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry, the percentage of those who are “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” dropped to a record low since we began conducting this study in 2014. This change could be due to concerns about the “protectionist trade policy agenda in the United States” and “market competition in the United States from e-commerce,” the top two concerns this year.
- The percentage of those who are “optimistic” or “somewhat optimistic” fell from 92.3 percent in 2016 to 71.0 percent in 2017, a record low since we began conducting this study in 2014. As many as 12.9 percent of respondents are “somewhat pessimistic” about the next five years, mostly large-scale retailers with more than 3,000 employees.
- Despite the challenges, demand for human talent in the industry overall remains robust. This year, around 80 percent of respondents plan to hire more employees in the next five years, especially supply chain specialists, data scientists, sourcing specialists, and marketing analysts.
- Cost is no longer one of the top concerns; respondents are less stressed about “increasing production or sourcing cost,” which slipped from #2 challenge in 2016 to #7 challenge in 2017. Only 34 percent rate the issue among their top five challenges this year, significantly lower than 50 percent in 2016 and 76 percent in 2015. Labor cost remains the top factor driving up sourcing cost in 2017.
Although U.S. fashion companies continue to seek alternatives to “Made in China,” China’s position as the top sourcing destination remains unshakable. Meanwhile, sourcing from Vietnam and Bangladesh may continue to grow over the next two years, but at a relatively slow pace.
- 91 percent of respondents source from China; while 100 percent sourced from China in our past three studies, China is still the top-ranked sourcing destination this year, and the percentage of those expecting to decrease sourcing from the country fell from 60 percent in 2016 to 46 percent this year—and many more expect to maintain their current sourcing value or volume from the country in the next two years.
- Likely reflecting the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the expectation of increasing labor costs, only 36 percent of respondents expect to increase sourcing from Vietnam in the next two years, much lower than 53 percent who said the same in 2016.
- Respondents are cautious about expanding sourcing from Bangladesh in the next two years, with only 32 percent expecting to somewhat increase sourcing While “Made in Bangladesh” enjoys a prominent price advantage over many other Asian suppliers, respondents view Bangladesh as the having the highest risk for compliance.
U.S. fashion companies continue to maintain truly global supply chains.
- Respondents source from 51 countries or regions in 2017, close to the 56 in last year’s study.
- 57.6 percent source from 10+ different countries or regions in 2017, up from 51.8 percent in last year’s survey. In general, larger companies have a more diversified sourcing base than smaller companies. Additionally, retailers maintain a more diversified sourcing base than brands, importers/wholesalers, and manufacturers.
- Around 54 percent expect their sourcing base will become more diversified in the next two years, up from 44 percent in 2016; among these respondents, over 60 percent currently source from more than 10 different countries or regions.
- The most common sourcing model is shifting from “China Plus Many” to “China Plus Vietnam Plus Many.” The typical sourcing portfolio today is 30-50 percent from China, 11-30 percent from Vietnam, and the rest from other countries.
- While Asia as a whole remains the dominant sourcing region for U.S. fashion companies, the Western Hemisphere is growing in popularity. This year, we see a noticeable increase in sourcing from the United States (70 percent, up from 52 percent in 2016) and countries in North, South, and Central Americas, which offer a shorter lead time and relatively lower risk of compliance.
Today, ethical sourcing and sustainability are given more weight in U.S. fashion companies’ sourcing decisions. Respondents also see unmet compliance (factory, social and/or environmental) standards as the top supply chain risk.
- 5 percent of respondents say ethical sourcing and sustainability have become more important in their company’s sourcing decisions in 2017 compared to five years ago.
- 100 percent of respondents currently audit their suppliers, including how suppliers treat their workers, suppliers’ fire safety, and suppliers’ building safety. The majority (93 percent) use third-party certification programs to audit, with a mix of announced and unannounced audits.
- As many as 90 percent of respondents map their supply chains, i.e., keep records of name, location, and function of suppliers. More than half track not only Tier 1 suppliers, suppliers they contract with directly, but also Tier 2 suppliers, i.e. supplier’s suppliers. It is less common for U.S. fashion companies to map Tier 3 and Tier 4 suppliers though, which could be because of the difficulty of getting access to related information with such a globalized and highly fragmented supply chain.
Free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs remain underutilized, and several FTAs, including CAFTA-DR, are utilized even less this year than in previous years.
- Of the 19 FTAs/preference programs we examined this year, only NAFTA is used by more than 50 percent of respondents for import purposes.
- Even more concerning, some U.S. fashion companies source from countries/regions with FTAs/preference programs but, for whatever reason, do not claim the benefits. For example, as many as 38 percent and 6 percent of respondents, respectively, do not use CAFTA-DR and NAFTA when they source from these two regions.
Respondents unanimously oppose the U.S. border adjustment tax (BAT) proposal and call for the further removal of trade barriers, including restrictive rules of origin and high tariffs.
- 100 percent of respondents oppose a border adjustment tax; 84 percent “strongly oppose” it.
- Respondents support initiatives to eliminate trade barriers of all kinds, from high tariffs to overcomplicated documentation requirements, to the restrictive yarn-forward rules of origin in NAFTA and future free trade agreements.
- Respondents say the “complex standards on labeling and testing”, “complex rules for the valuation of goods at customs” and “administrative and bureaucratic delays at the border” are the top non-tariff barriers they face when sourcing today.
The benchmarking studies from 2014 to 2016 can be downloaded from https://www.usfashionindustry.com/resources/industry-benchmarking-study
The following analysis is from the latest Just-Style Op-ed Is China Losing Its Edge as a US Apparel Supplier.
A fact-checking review of trade statistics in 2016 of a total 167 categories of T&A products categorized by the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) suggests that textile and apparel (T&A) “Made in China” have no near competitors in the U.S. import market. Specifically, in 2016:
- Of the total 11 categories of yarn, China was the top supplier for 2 categories (or 18%);
- Of the total 34 categories of fabric, China was the top supplier for 25 categories (or 74%);
- Of the total 106 categories of apparel, China was the top supplier for 88 categories (or 83%);
- Of the total 16 categories of made-up textiles, China was the top supplier for 12 categories (or 68%);
In comparison, for those Asian T&A suppliers regarded as China’s top competitors:
- Vietnam was the top supplier for only 5 categories of apparel (less than 5% of the total);
- Bangladesh was the top supplier for only 2 categories of apparel (less than 2% of the total)
- India was the top supplier for 2 categories of fabric (9% of the total), one category of apparel (1% of the total) and 5 categories of made-up textiles (41.7% of the total)
Notably, China not only was the top supplier for many T&A products but also held a lion’s market shares. For example, in 2016:
- For the 34 categories of fabric that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 41%, 23 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories
- For the 88 categories of apparel that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 53%, 38 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
- For the 16 categories of made-up textiles that China was the top supplier, China’s average market shares reached 57%, 40 percentage points higher than the 2nd top suppliers for these categories.
It is also interesting to see that despite the reported rising labor cost, T&A “Made in China” are NOT becoming more expensive. On the contrary, the unit price of U.S. T&A imports from China in 2016 was 6.8% lower than a year earlier, whereas over the same period the unit price for U.S. T&A imports from rest of the world only declined by 2.9%.
Furthermore, T&A “Made in China” are demonstrating even bigger price competitiveness compared with other suppliers to the U.S. market. For example, in 2016, the unit price of “Made China” was only 78% of the price of “Made in Vietnam” (in 2012 was 89%), 88% of “Made in Bangladesh” (in 2012 was 100%), 86% of “Made in Mexico” (in 2012 was 103%) and 72% of “Made in India” (in 2012 was 81%).
Are the results surprising? How to explain China’s demonstrated price competitiveness despite its reported rising labor cost? What’s your outlook for the future of China as a sourcing destination for U.S. fashion brands and retailers? Please feel free to share your views.
- Zara Hayes, Director of Clothes to Die For
- Sarah Hamilton, Producer of Clothes to Die For
- Mara Burr, Senior vice president from the Albright Stonebridge Group
- Avedis Seferian, President and CEO of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production(WRAP)
- Marsha A. Dickson, Professor of Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, Irma Ayers Professor of Human Services, Co-Director of Sustainable Apparel Initiative, University of Delaware
Panel discussion questions:
- What does the Rana Plaza tragedy bring out those aspects of the garment industry that many people don’t know?
- What was it like going to Bangladesh and talking to survivors of the Rana Plaza? What are the behind the scene stories of filming the documentary Clothes To Die For?
- What changes are happening in the Bangladesh garment industry after the Rana Plaza? Particularly, what people in Bangladesh are doing to prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again?
- The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) is a major effort from the U.S. business community in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. What the Alliance has being doing, what major accomplishments have been achieved and what is the future work plan of the organization?
- Has corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the Bangladesh garment industry critically improved after the Rana Plaza? Compared with other leading apparel manufacturers in the world such as China, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Indonesia, is Bangladesh still significantly lagging behind in terms of corporate social responsibility practices?
- How does the academia look at the Rana Plaza? Does the tragedy lead to some new research questions? What is the “academic” recipe for improving the CSR practices in the Bangladesh garment industry?
- Will enhanced factory inspection increase production cost and make apparel “Made in Bangladesh” lose price competitiveness?
- To prevent tragedies like the Rana Plaza from happening again, what each individual consumer can do or should do?
- Sub-contracting is regarded as an indispensable part of today’s global apparel supply chain. But factories undertaking sub-contracting work operate in a “black box”—many of them are off the chart for inspection and audit. Any progress or new thinking on how to solve the sub-contracting issue in the garment industry?