Textiles and Apparel – Being Responsible Stakeholders

Panelists:

  • Anna Ashton– US-China Business Council (USCBC)
  • Amy Lehr – Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
  • Nate Herman – American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA)
  • John Foote – Baker McKenzie

Related readings

How will EU Trade Curb Affect Cambodia’s Apparel Industry?

Key findings:

1. The garment industry matters significantly to Cambodia, both economically, and socially. As of 2019, as much as 70% of Cambodia’s merchandise exports were apparel items. Likewise, around one-third of Cambodia’s manufacturing output currently comes from the garment sector alone. Further, as of 2016, the garment industry in Cambodia employed nearly 928,600 workers (almost 79% were female), an increase of 239% from 2007.

2. Cambodia’s apparel exports have enjoyed steady growth in recent decades,  reaching US$7.83 billion in 2018 – a jump of 256% from US$2.2 billion in 2005. Yet, it faces several major challenges:

  • Due to limited production techniques and capital availability, apparel producers in Cambodia are still mostly engaged in cut-make-trim (CMT) activities, meaning they rely heavily on imported textile raw material and are only able to make a marginal profit based on low-value-added sewing work.
  • Cambodia’s apparel exports are highly concentrated on the EU and the US markets, which together accounted for 73.4% of the country’s total garment exports in 2019.
  • Cambodia is facing intense competition in its main apparel export markets—there has been little growth in Cambodia’s share of EU and US apparel imports over the past two decades, remaining as low as 3% as of 2019.

3. Cambodia has benefited significantly from the EU Everything But Arms (EBA) program. Established in 2001, the EBA trade initiative provides least developed countries (LDCs), such as Cambodia, with duty-free and quota-free access to the vast EU market for all products except weapons and ammunition. Like other EBA beneficiary countries, the majority (around 95%) of Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU currently claim the duty- and quota-free EBA benefits.  

4. Out of concerns over Cambodia’s “serious and systematic violations of the human rights principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the European Commission on 12 February 2020 formally announced the withdrawal of part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the EBA program. Starting from 12 August 2020, a select group of Cambodia’s apparel exports to the EU, together with all travel goods, sugar, and some footwear will be subject to the EU’s Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) tariff rat, which were at the rate of 11.5% on average for apparel items in 2019

5. Even the partial suspension of Cambodia’s EBA eligibility could result in significant and lasting negative impacts on its apparel exports to the EU:

  • The apparel items directly affected by the EBA suspension accounted for around 15% of the value of Cambodia’s total apparel exports to the EU in 2019. For those apparel categories directly targeted by the EBA suspension, EU fashion brands and retailers may quickly shift sourcing orders from Cambodia to other supplying countries to avoid paying the additional tariffs.
  • Social responsibility is being given more weight in fashion companies’ sourcing decisions. This means even those apparel items not directly targeted by the EU EBA suspension could face widespread order cancellations as sourcing from Cambodia is deemed to involve higher social compliance risks. In a worse but possible scenario, Cambodia’s apparel exports to the whole world could be under threat as many EU fashion brands and retailers operate globally and adopt a unified ethical standard and code of conduct for apparel sourcing across different markets.
  • Additionally, the timing cannot be worse: Due to the devastating hit by Covid-19, as of April 2020, Cambodia had reported nearly 130 garment factory closures and more than 100,000 workers laid off. These numbers may increase further as the effect of the pandemic continue to unfold.

Further reading: Abby Edge and Sheng Lu (2020). How will EU trade curb affect Cambodia’s apparel industry? Just-Style.

Discussion questions:

  1. What you would suggest to the Cambodian government or garment factories there to mitigate the negative impacts of the EU EBA suspension?
  2. Why or why not the EU should reconsider its decision to partially suspend Cambodia’s EBA eligibility because of Covid-19?
  3. If you were fashion brands and retailers that source from Cambodia, what would you do?

New Report: Fashion’s New Must-have—Sustainable Sourcing at Scale

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The study was based on a survey of 64 sourcing executives from vertical apparel retailers, hybrid wholesalers, and sportswear companies, with a total sourcing volume of $100 billion. Below are the key findings of the report:

  • More sourcing executives now focus on process improvements in their companies, such as sustainability and transparency (56% of respondents), digitalization of sourcing process and related areas (45% of respondents), consolidation of supplier base (42% of respondents), end-to-end process efficiency (41% of respondents) than shifting sourcing countries (20% of respondents). Related, as cost gaps between sourcing destinations are narrowing, apparel companies are shifting from minimizing the price of supply to a focus on customer-centric, agile product development to meet customer demand. Digitalization, such as intelligent sourcing, is one of the most promising areas.
  • Affected by the on-going U.S.-China tariff war, two-thirds of surveyed companies expect their overall sourcing cost to increase in the years ahead, including 37.5% expecting a 2-4% increase and 25% expecting 1-2% increase. However, only 3.1% of respondents expect a significant cost increase (>4%).
  • Echoing the findings of other recent studies, respondents plan to source relatively less from China through 2025. Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Ethiopia are among the top alternative sourcing destinations. Meanwhile, more companies are considering near-sourcing. The biggest challenge, however, is limited fabric production capacity, NOT higher wages.
  • Sustainable apparel sourcing is regarded as a must—70% of EU companies and 35% of North American companies surveyed say “responsible and sustainable sourcing was on the CEO agenda.” Top challenges to achieve sustainable apparel sourcing include “no common, objective industry standard on sustainable sourcing”, “consumers lack a clear picture of what sustainable fashion is all about”, “mixed influence of the sourcing function in company-wide sustainability strategy.” Further, more companies prioritize environmental-sustainability initiatives (issues such as sustainable material, recycled material, traceability, and packing) than social sustainability initiatives (issues such as) fair on living wage and decent work). Additionally, respondents hold competing views on whether sustainability will increase sourcing costs overall. Around 58% of respondents see additional costs for sustainable sourcing between 1% and 5%.
  • Sustainability will play an increasingly important role in how apparel companies select their suppliers. Some surveyed apparel brands and retailers say they have upgraded their supplier ratings over the last couple of years, moving away from viewing sustainability simply as a compliance-based hygiene factor and instead embracing criteria that are more sophisticated.
  • There is also a need to shift from the transactional-based, season-by-season and the low-commitment relationship between apparel companies and their vendors to strategic partnerships between the two. Around 73% of respondents plan to consolidate their supplier base by at least 5% over the next few years. Related, apparel companies increasingly empower suppliers for self-auditing with tools like the Higg Index.

Wage Level for Garment Workers in the World (updated in 2017)

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Statistics from the Public Radio International (PRI) show that garment workers in many parts of the world earn much less than the national average. Of the twenty-one countries investigated by PRI, the monthly wage for garment workers range widely from $1,864 (USA) to $194 (Sri Lanka).

However, a higher wage level in absolute term does not necessarily mean a more decent pay. For example, while garment workers in the US apparently earn much more than their peers in other parts of the world, the wage level nevertheless was only 51 percent of the U.S. national average wage. Likewise, while garment workers in Honduras earn only $650 each month, this amount was approximately 107 percent of the national average wage in the country.

For more information about the wage level for garment workers around the world, please explore the Fair-fashion Quiz created by PRI.

Automation Comes to Fashion

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!

Interview with Dr. Marsha Dickson, Co-founder of Better Buying

 Dr. Marsha Dickson, Irma Ayers Professor, Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware discusses her co-founded Better Buying project(http://www.betterbuying.org), a meaningful effort to improve the social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry. The video is produced by Mallory Metzner, reporter of channel 49 of the University of Delaware.

The 2 Euro T-shirt

 

This video is a great reminder of the impact of our fashion apparel industry, in particular through trade and sourcing. One key learning objective of FASH455 is to help students get aware of those critical global agendas that are highly relevant to the textile and apparel sector.

Discussion Question: After watching the video, do you have any new thoughts about how you can contribute to the building of a better world as a FASH major?

2016 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study Released

The 2018 U.S. Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study is now available
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The report can be downloaded from HERE

Key Findings of the study:

I. Business environment and outlook in the U.S. Fashion Industry

  • Overall, respondents remain optimistic about the five-year outlook for the U.S. fashion industry. “Market competition in the United States” is ranked the top business challenge this year, which, for the first time since 2014, exceeds the concerns about “increasing production or sourcing cost.”

II. Sourcing practices in the U.S. fashion industry

  • U.S. fashion companies are more actively seeking alternatives to “Made in China” in 2016, but China’s position as the No.1 sourcing destination seems unlikely to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, sourcing from Vietnam and Bangladesh may continue to grow over the next two years, but at a slower pace.
  • U.S. fashion companies continue to expand their global reach and maintain truly global supply chains. Respondents’ sourcing bases continue to expand, and more countries are considered potential sourcing destinations. However, some companies plan to consolidate their sourcing bases in the next two years to strengthen key supplier relationships and improve efficiency.
  • 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.

III. Trade policy and the U.S. fashion industry

  • Overall, U.S. fashion companies are very excited about the conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and they look forward to exploring the benefits after TPP’s implementation.
  • Thanks to the 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), U.S. fashion companies have shown more interest in sourcing from the region. In particular, most respondents see the “third-country fabric” provision a critical necessity for their company to source in the AGOA region.
  • Free trade agreements (FTAs) and trade preference programs remain underutilized in 2016 and several FTAs, including NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, are utilized even less than in previous years. U.S. fashion companies also call for further removal of trade barriers, including restrictive rules of origin and remaining high tariffs.

The benchmarking study was conducted between March 2016 and April 2016 based on a survey of 30 executives from leading U.S. fashion and apparel brands, retailers, importers, and wholesalers. In terms of business size, 92 percent of respondents report having more than 500 employees in their companies, while 84 percent of respondents report having more than 1,000 employees, suggesting that the findings well reflect the views of the most influential players in the U.S. fashion industry.

For the benchmarking studies in 2014 and 2015, please visit: https://www.usfashionindustry.com/resources/industry-benchmarking-study

FIBERcast8: Two Years After the Rana Plaza, What Has Changed?


Panelists:

  • 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?

Trade and Development

This video provides a great summary of what we discussed in class on trade and development. Please keep in mind that:

  • Textile and apparel industry (T&A) plays a critical role in generating economic growth, reducing poverty and promoting human development both in history and today. This is why T&A remains a critical sector in the 21st global economy, even though people may think clothing is such a “simple” product.
  • Apparel sourcing is far more than just about how to get the product at the lowest price. Throughout the supply chain, sourcing decisions and practices are closely connected with many people’s destiny in the world, especially those living in the developing countries. As future professionals working in the fashion apparel industry, please think about your impact and responsibilities.

Please feel free to share any comments and thoughts on the video

Two Years after the Rana Plaza Tragedy: What Has Changed?

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Note: the followings updates are compiled based on the 2015 Bangladesh Development Conference held from June 5th to 6th at the Harvard University. The conference attracted over 100 attendants and speakers from various aspects of the apparel industry, government agencies, international organizations, non-government organizations and academia.

1. Overall, the industry side argues that tremendous efforts have been made to improve work safety in the Bangladesh apparel industry and things are gradually improving. However, representatives from some labor unions say that changes are not happening fast enough as they should.

2. Indeed, as one of the most noticeable changes after the Rana Plaza tragedy, the Bangladesh apparel factories are now facing more frequent safety inspection and audit from various parties:

  • In addition to the regular inspection conducted by individual fashion brand or retailer, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (the Accord) and Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) were established in 2013 respectively (mostly funded by western apparel brands sourcing from Bangladesh) to maintain minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
  • The Accord has a total five-year budget of $50 million to be used on factory safety inspection and improvement. However, it is far from being clear what will happen after the Accord agreement expires in 2018 and whether the inspection achievements can be maintained afterwards.
  • The International Labor Organization and International Finance Corporation launched the “Better Work” program in collaboration with Bangladesh government, apparel factory owners, workers, fashion buyers and other relevant stakeholders. The program intends to provide assessments of factory compliance with national law and core international labor standards, paired with transparent public reporting on findings.
  • Nevertheless, some people argue that audit itself is not the answer to the problem, just like “a pig will not gain weight simply by weighting it; instead, we have to feed it.” Reflecting on the limitation of inspection and audit, they refer to compliance as just a piece of paper whereas ethics is something that keeps people awake in bed.

3. Some foreign governments also have responded to the Rana Plaza tragedy, although in different ways:

  • Stick: the U.S. government decided to suspend Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) status in 2013 as a response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. Because textile and apparel are excluded from GSP, this measure has no direct impact on Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the United States. But the movement is symbolic and significantly increases the publicity of corporate social responsibility (CRS) issue in the Bangladesh apparel industry.
  • Carrot: in comparison, the European Union chooses to continue providing Bangladesh its GSP benefits. As a GSP beneficiary, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to EU can enjoy duty free treatment when competing with other Asian suppliers such as China and India. According to EU, from 2008 to 2012 EU28 imports from Bangladesh increased from €5,464 million to €9,212 million (+69%), which is more than half of Bangladesh’s total exports. While granting Bangladesh the benefit, EU also launches the GSP Action Plan and the Sustainability Compact to encourage responsible businesses in Bangladesh.

4. Training has been provided for Bangladesh officials to help them better understand building safety requirements.

5. More apparel factories in Bangladesh now have their own labor unions. According to the local law, 30 percent of the labor force in a factory can form its own labor union, meaning theoretically one factory can have up to three different unions. There has been more open discussions on “worker/women empowerment”, “social dialogue” and “stakeholder engagement” in the Bangladeshi society as well.  

6. Some creative financial incentive mechanisms are suggested to improve the situation, such as offering factories with better compliance record with more attractive interest rate for bank loans; and adding building safety clauses in factory insurance contract.  

7. Academia is actively engaged in finding a solution for improving the CRS practices in the Bangladesh apparel industry as well:

  • Based on analyzing the factory inspection data, some scholars start to evaluate the effectiveness of the current inspection system (eg: does who pay for the inspection matter for the result? Does violation go down overtime in inspection? What is the role of on-going people to people relationship in inspection?).
  • Some projects intend to develop an estimate of the true size of the Bangladesh apparel industry, given the fact that the worst work condition may exist in those undocumented factories. As a matter of fact, even the Bangladesh government doesn’t know how many garment factories they have in the country.
  • Some scholars propose the idea of linking a company’s social compliance data with its business financial data to evaluate the business implication of CRS practices.
  • Some studies compare the labor practices between Bangladesh and other developing countries in South Asia such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka.
  • Some people suggest using case studies to develop hypotheses for a policy change.
  • More and more studies are now conducted based on field trip and interview in Bangladesh.

8. Criminal charges recently are filed against a dozen individuals and companies identified responsible for the Rana Plaza tragedy.

9. Response to the Rana Plaza tragedy has further led to a discussion on the broader economic, social and political reform in Bangladesh.

Sheng Lu

Apparel Industry is Not All about Labor Cost

While most discussions on improving corporate social responsibility practices in the apparel industry still focus on conventional solutions like higher labor standards and more effective monitoring programs, a recent Boston Consulting Group report suggests supply chain innovation also has its role to play.

One key argument of the report is: Although cost still matters in apparel sourcing, lower-cost can be achieved through means other than seeking cheap labor. For example:

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Engendering end-to-end supply chain efficiency through managing raw materials. Apparel companies may work with their suppliers further down the supply chain to optimize fabric selection, which usually account for as much as 60-70 percent of the total cost of a finished garment (v.s. 30-40 percent of labor cost). Some apparel companies have started to use fewer yarns and weight classes so as to reduce fabric count and lower down sourcing cost. Some other companies are realizing significant cost reduction by timing orders so as to level the load over the course of the year. [Note: looks like Uniqlo’s model]

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Building an integrated supply chain. As cited in the report, to balance sourcing cost and speed to market, one major apparel retailer builds 15 to 20 percent of the season’s styles and pre-positions about two-thirds of its raw material before the season (both in-house and from production partners). During the season, the company analyzes sales, staying in constant communication with its stores and with the design team. It resupplies items that are selling well through accelerated production and delivery, usually within three to four days. Designers then create new styles by adapting the best sellers using the pre-positioned material. [Note: looks like Zara’s model]

Innovating ways of production. The report suggests that bonding and gluing technologies (i.e. use bonded adhesive films and processes such as ultrasonic heating and high-frequency radiation to fuse together layers of fabric) can produce an entire small garment in 30 to 40 percent less time than conventional cut-and-sew. Digital technologies such as digital prototyping of textile designs can also significantly help apparel makers reduce waste and boost efficiency in pattern making. The potential application of 3D printing may further allow apparel makers to produce smaller batches, and possibly even allow for made-to-order production of individually designed and sized garments. This would not only allow companies to match the market’s growing need for speed, but also reduce the costs of retail inventory surpluses and associated price reductions.

Two additional thinking based on the report:

First, much attention has been given to the changing business environment of the apparel industry, such as rising labor cost in Asia, shifting market growth towards emerging economies and more sophisticated consumers’ demand in the era of omni-channel retailing. But what if the nature of the apparel industry is also changing: if one day labor cost is no longer a key factor in deciding where to produce and apparel production itself is no longer labor-intensive at all? Although automation of apparel production was not achieved in the 20st century, it may not be something totally impossible in the 21st century. We need to have bold thinking here.

Second, while the apparel industry is innovating its business model (i.e. the way to produce, the way to deliver products and the way to serve its customers), T&A educational programs also need to embrace innovative thinking. For example: are traditional course offerings sufficient enough (or still relevant) to prepare students’ job readiness in the 21st century? How to proactively respond to the changing nature of the apparel industry which has started to adopt more and more new technologies? What if we redefine the meaning of “T&A” majors and redesign the model of preparing the workforce for the apparel industry? (just like the question: for wearable technology, shall IT companies make apparel or apparel companies make IT products?)

US Department of Labor: 28 countries were Found Using Child or Forced Labor in Making Textiles and Apparel

In its updated List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (ILAB) released on December 1, 2014, the U.S. Department Labor said that at least 28 countries are found using child or forced labor in making textiles and apparel. All countries on the list appear to be developing countries. Particularly, the problem of using child labor or forced labor was found most serious in the cotton sector (18 countries), followed by garment manufacturing (9 countries).

Bangladesh, a focus of corporate social responsibilities practices these days, was found using child labor in making garment according to ILAB.

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2(Data compiled by Sheng Lu)

Note: * ILAB maintains a list of goods and their source countries which it has reason to believe are produced by child labor or forced labor in violation of international standards. The List is intended to raise public awareness about child labor and forced labor around the world, and to promote and inform efforts to address them. A starting point for action, the List creates opportunities for ILAB to engage and assist foreign governments. It is also a valuable resource for researchers, advocacy organizations and companies wishing to carry out risk assessments and engage in due diligence on labor rights in their supply chains

Follow up:

After the release of the ILAB report, four House Democrats sent a letter to USTR Michael Forman on December 4th, 2014, asking him to provide details on labor provisions in the TPP. As noted by the lawmakers in the letter: “Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, and Malaysia, one-third of the nations included in the TPP, were all cited for labor abuses in the report…”. “We are following up with you because we believe it is important that you take action to ensure that real, meaningfully enforceable labor protections are in the TPP”.

Levi Strauss to Provide Financial Incentives to Encourage Better Practices in Social Compliance

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Levi Strauss, a global manufacturer of brand-name clothing, announced today that it plans to provide financial incentives for garment suppliers in developing countries to upgrade environmental, health, safety and labor standards. Specifically, if a vendor scores higher on  Levi Strauss’s Terms of Engagement (TOE) assessment, which measures labor, health and safety, and environmental performances, it will receive lower cost rates on working-capital financing from the International Finance Corporation (member of the World Bank) Global Trade Supplier Finance program (GTSF). Established in 2010, GTSF is a $500 million multicurrency investment and advisory program that provides short-term finance to emerging-market suppliers and small and midsized exporters. Lower financing cost will help a garment manufacturer reduce its operation cost and potentially result in increased profits.

As we learned in TMD433, corporate social responsibility is a critical and long-time issue facing the global textile and apparel industry. Despite many great efforts, the phenomenon of “race to the bottom” still widely exists because of the intensive competition among suppliers. Levi Strauss is the first major international buyer that partners with a financial institution to offer its suppliers a direct financial incentive to improve social compliance. Levi’s program also reminds us that to improve the corporate social responsibility practices in the fashion apparel industry requires joint efforts and creativity among all stakeholders.

Discussion: What do you think of Levi’s program? Will it work well? Can it become a “model” and gradually involve more retailers or fashion brands? Any challenges will the program face in its implementation? Feel free to share your thoughts. Related reading: Levi’s Sourcing VP Talks Supply Chain Strategies (from Sourcing journal Online, May 2014)

[Discussion for this post is closed, please leave no more comment.]

Study Suggests Positive Social Impact of the Garment Sector on the Lives of Bangladesh Women

While our case study 1 focused on the problem of corporate social responsibility practices in the Bangladesh garment sector, a recent study based on examining 1,395 households in 60 Bangladeshi villages in 2009 suggests that the growth of the garment sector has resulted in positive impacts on the lives of Bangladeshi women.

Specifically, the study finds that:

1) Girls exposed to the garment sector delay early marriage and childbirth at early ages (12-18). Many studies have suggested the negative welfare implications of early marriage and childbirth.

2) Girls exposed to the garment sector gain extra years of education. According to the study, on average, one additional year of working in the garment sector statistically will lead to a 0.48 years of education for girls. The authors further suggest that increased demand for skills in garment factories was one of the main driving forces behind such a positive correlation.

As argued by the authors, in developing countries such as Bangladesh, social policies such as education are often tied to trade policy and industrial policy.

However, one another interesting finding is that the average wage level of respondents working in the garment sector was almost 22% lower than those working in the non-garment sector in Bangladesh.

So, based on our case study and the above research findings, do you have any new thoughts about improving the corporate social responsibility practices in the global apparel industry? Do you think Western retailers shall stop sourcing apparel from Bangladesh because of the reported problem of factory safety and workers’ working condition? Please feel free to share your views.

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Apparel Issues to Watch in 2014

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In the year ahead, the following issues are suggested to watch for the apparel industry according to the latest just style management briefing:

Responsible sourcing: a variety of different themes inclusive of sustainability, compliance, chemical safety and product safety. In the past, the apparel industry has been very reactive in these areas, and efforts have accelerated to move to a more proactive model in 2014.

Demand for greater supply chain visibility: a higher level focus and a lot more time will be required to look at the supply chains from end to end, especially for tier 2 and 3 component suppliers. Apparel industry needs to be focused on preparing to be more transparent on what goes into making its products and the carbon and water footprint it leaves behind. There will also be a stronger emphasis on quality, and more intelligence and agility in the supply chain, including how to achieve global flexibility in supply to maximize advantages and benefits offered by different regions.

Adjust to the industry “new normal”: speed, efficiency and cost management. ‘Quick response’ or ‘fast fashion’ is no longer a catch phrase, it’s a business reality. Speed is king. Retailers have learned to manage with smaller inventories and to quickly react to consumer needs. Additionally, there are no more low cost countries (with capability and capacity) to tap into, which requires more efficient cost control through supply chain design and management.

Internet and omni-channel retailing. The internet continues to upend the apparel industry. Brick and mortar companies are still struggling to figure out how to harness the power of the internet – and struggling to figure out how big of a threat pure-play internet companies are. Meanwhile, the proliferation of internet-only companies continues, increasing the competitive pressure on everyone (including the older internet-only companies!). All of this will end up resulting in a much stronger industry overall – but in the meantime there will be a lot of hand-wringing and heartache.

Economic outlook. Overall, 2014 will be a year better off than 2013. The US economy continues to improve, the Eurozone recession has stabilised and there is the huge opportunity Asia offers.

Country risk. Whatever happens in the real economy, political tensions throughout developing countries (except possibly China and Vietnam) are growing. They are about more than working conditions in garment factories – and we cannot expect the garment industry to remain immune from them.

International market expansion. Global vertical retailers and brands need to balance the efficiency of global assortments with being able to cater to a broad range of consumer purchasing preferences across cultural groups. Winners manage to preserve their brand identity while offering attractive choices to this diverse customer group.

Trade policy and trade politics. 2014 is an election year for US Congress. It will only be tougher to find bipartisan consensus. Things to watch include whether the Obama Administration is going to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during 2014, whether the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) can get passed as well as the renewal of the Generalized system of Preferences (GSP) and African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

China’s role in the global apparel supply chain. China’s productivity miracle has been the single major influence on global sourcing over the past five years. While this cannot go on forever it is hard to see a significant change in its share in 2014. China’s dominance of upstream textile production (spinning, weaving and knitting) is under greater threat. Its main operators are making substantial overseas investment, and while the timing of major upstream projects means this will have little impact on fabric and yarn manufacture in 2014, the subject will preoccupy observers. Onshore garment development in Japan, Germany, the UK and US will continue to create much publicity, but limited amounts of garments. Nearshoring continued to lose market share in the EU and US during 2013, though many buyers express growing interest, and there are signs of growth in some categories. It will be surprising if it shows any significant increase in 2014.

The 2013 global apparel sourcing map – balancing cost, compliance, and capacity

Mackenzie & Co., a well-known consulting firm, recently released their latest report on the global apparel sourcing map. The report is drafted based on a 2013 summer survey with 29 chief purchasing officers (CPOs) in Europe and the U.S. who were responsible for an annual total sourcing value of $39 billion USD.  According to the report:

First, the global apparel sourcing cost is expected to rise modestly in the next 12 months (1.7% increase on average). Labor cost is tagged as the No.1 driving force of the rising sourcing cost.  

Second, companies are sourcing less apparel from China, but they move in a very cautious way. In the meanwhile, Asia is still seen as the world hub for apparel manufacturing & exports in the years to come. Such a pattern reflects the exact criteria for sourcing decisions: a balance of price, quality, capacity, speed and risk.  Particularly, “proximity sourcing” is becoming increasingly important according to the surveyed CPOs. This rule shall also apply to China which has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing apparel retail markets.

Third, despite the frequent reported corporate social responsibility problems, a combined consideration of labor cost advantage, free trade agreement benefits and capacity make Bangladesh remain the No. 1 hot pot for apparel sourcing for the next 5 years. 83% of surveyed CPOs plans an increase of apparel sourcing from Bangladesh in the years ahead.   

Overall, sourcing will continue to be one of the most critical success factors for the global apparel industry.  The survey results reflect a more structural shift in the industry, while the traditional apparel company “caravan journey” becomes more complex.

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More on Bangladesh: What’s Next?

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I’m sure  you have all been reading about the current factory protests in Bangladesh, but here are the basics of the current situation. Factory workers of Bangladesh are asking for a $100 monthly minimum wage, as compared to their current $38 monthly wage. The issue is that factory owners are finding it difficult to pay such a dramatic increase on worker’s wages because of their customers (large global brands). The owners are looking to these global brands as the cause of these issues, claiming these large brands are unwilling to pay more for their goods manufactured in Bangladesh. Currently, factories are unable to produce the goods these global brands have ordered due to the protests.

My question is: What’s next not just for Bangladesh, but for the United States? How will our economy be affected if the factory workers, factory owners, and global brands cannot come to a solution relatively soon? What does this mean for us as consumers? Is there anything we can do as consumers? Welcome for any thoughts!

by MacKenzie Cahoone

Extended reading: http://world.time.com/2013/09/23/bangladeshi-garment-workers-set-factories-ablaze-in-bid-for-higher-wages/ 

Is clothing “made in USA” more ethical? How “ethical” should be defined?

It has become a commonly held view that apparel workers in many developing countries are unfairly treated because they are much lower paid compared with their counterparts in the developed countries.  For example, American Apparel, a company that insists all of its products made in USA, claims itself to be sweatshop-free on the basis that it pays workers an hourly wage of $12.  However, does an hourly wage of $12 in the USA necessarily mean more “ethical” than an hourly wage of several cents in a poor developing country like Bangladesh?  

An often ignored fact is that in many developing countries, jobs in the apparel sector are better paid than positions in other sectors. For example, according to a recent study conducted by the World Bank, in Bangladesh, wage level in its apparel sector is 17.7% higher than the average level of all sectors, 72.2% higher than the wage level in the agriculture sector and 4.5% higher than the wage level in the service sector. This is not surprising, because in many developing countries, “moving from agriculture and low-end services into apparel jobs is a channel for social upgrading” (Lopez-Acevedo & Robertson, 2012).

Then, what does an hourly wage of $12 mean in a developed country like the United States? Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 2012, average wage level in the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector (NAICS 315) is 26.2% below the average wage level of all sectors. More specifically, the average wage level for the production occupations is 47.3% below the national average level and 53.6% below the national average level for sewing machine operators, the exact type of job that the hourly wage of $12 refers to. 

The point to make here after the comparison is that it is misleading to define “ethical” or comment on “corporate social responsibility” without putting the matter in the context of the stage of development and the nature of the economy.  Wage level is not determined by good will, but by the principle of economics 101.

By Sheng Lu

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Building Collapse Kills 200 Bangladeshi Garment Workers

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When can tragedy as such come to an end!?

NewYork Times reports today (April 25, 2013)

“A building housing several factories making clothing for European and American consumers collapsed into a deadly heap on Wednesday, only five months after a horrific fire at a similar facility prompted leading multinational brands to pledge to work to improve safety in the country’s booming but poorly regulated garment industry.

The Bangladeshi news media reported that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday. Shops and a bank branch on the lower floors immediately closed. But the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors ordered employees to work on Wednesday, despite the safety risks.

International attention was focused on labor conditions in Bangladesh five months ago, with the fatal fire at Tazreen Fashions, a garment factory near Dhaka. That fire brought pledges from government officials and many global companies to tighten safety standards.

Bangladesh is the world’s second-leading garment exporter, trailing only China, but the industry has been plagued by concerns over safety and angry protests over rock-bottom wages. The industry has grown rapidly in the past decade, particularly as rising wages in China have pushed many global clothing companies to look for lower costs elsewhere. Bangladesh has the lowest labor costs in the world, with the minimum wage for garment workers set at roughly $37 a month.

Such low labor costs have attracted not just Walmart but almost every major global clothing company, including Sears, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and many others. Bangladesh now has more than 5,000 garment factories, employing more than 3.2 million workers, many of them women, and advocates credit the industry for lifting people out of poverty, even with such low wages. Exports also provide a critical source of foreign exchange that helps the government offset the high costs of imported oil.

But critics have argued that the outsize importance of the industry has made the government reluctant to take steps that could increase costs or alienate foreign brands. Labor unions are almost nonexistent, and a labor organizer, Aminul Islam, was tortured and murdered last year. The case remains unsolved. Meanwhile, some factory owners say they cannot raise wages or invest in upgrading facilities because of the low prices paid by Western brands.

The news was also covered by CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/25/world/asia/bangladesh-building-collapse/index.html

NPR News Discussion

http://www.npr.org/2013/05/02/180557959/ethical-fashion-is-the-tragedy-in-bangladesh-a-final-straw

What we shall learn from the Bangladesh fire accident?

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1. Is corporate social responsibility a problem ONLY in developing countries?

How ethical is  clothing “made in UK” or “made in USA”? Suggested reading:

ANALYSIS – How ethical is UK manufacturing? (Textile Month International, 2012)

Sweatshops Are Fashion’s Dirty Little Secret. But They Don’t Exist in L.A. — Do They? (2012)

2. As a consumer, shall we be responsible for something too?

Isn’t that we always want better quality products at lower price and delivered at faster speed? Because clothing retail is such a highly competitive buyer-driven business, in order to meet our “demand”, isn’t companies have to find a way to increase product quality, shorten production time, frequently change design patterns but stick to the old delivery schedule and lower sourcing cost? Can we say the “race to the bottom” CRS practice in clothing factories has nothing to do with us as consumers?

3. Some people suggest: since there are so many ethical problems in developing countries, why not we just move apparel manufacturing back to the US or EU?

 If you ask these garment workers in Bangladesh, they would tell you that despite the horrible working conditions, they still feel “happy” to work there. Before working for the garment factory, their life was even worse—because of poverty and limited opportunity available to them. For example, for many young females in the least developing countries, if they do not work for garment factories, the other place for them to go is prostitution. We need to think about this question: if the Bangladesh factory was forced to close (Western brands no longer give them the order), what would happen to its workers?

4. Why internationally we still have no official labor standard, despite we have international organizations such as ILO, WTO, World Bank and United Nations out there as well as many international rules in other areas?

The nature of the problem is very similar as the ongoing global climate change negotiation. Countries are at different stages of development and what seems “ethical” may not necessarily fit for another country’s national conditions.

But still, everyone has a role to play to improve the status quo and create a better world, no matter as a consumer, professional working in the T&A industry, scholar or policy maker.

Sheng Lu

Garment-Factory Fire in Pakistan Kills 300 Trapped Behind Locked Doors

In the class, we just mentioned that the conditions under which our clothing were made significantly vary from country to country. Compared with the vidoes we watched yesterday, the story covered by the news is such a sharp contrast.

However, we may also want to think: despite the far-from pleasant working environment, why pepole in Pakistan are still willing to work there? As a consumer or professional in the US fashion apparel industry, what we can do to help improve the working conditions as shown in the picture? and what role can international trade play in helping developing countries like Pakistan to achieve economic development?

As reported by the New York Times article :

“Textiles are a major source of foreign currency for Pakistan, accounting for 7.4 percent of its gross domestic product in 2011 and employing 38 percent of the manufacturing work force. Pakistani cotton products are highly sought in neighboring India and form the backbone of a burgeoning fashion industry that caters to the elite. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has often called on the United States to drop tariff barriers to Pakistani textile imports, which it says would be preferable to traditional aid.”

We will gradually touch these critical issues in the later part of the course. Stay tuned.