Forced labour in Uzbekistan cotton linked to IFC loan: A victim of forced labour in cotton production and three Uzbek human rights defenders filed a complaint on 30 June 2016 against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private lending arm. The complaints alleges IFC loans support systemic use of forced labour to harvest Uzbekistan’s crop. Human Rights Watch says, “The complaint [downloads as PDF] against the IFC was filed with the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, an independent accountability unit attached to the IFC. It seeks an investigation into forced labour connected to a $40 million loan to Indorama Kokand Textile, which operates in Uzbekistan. The forced labour victim, who requested confidentiality, and the rights defenders Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva, and a third who requested confidentiality, presented evidence that the loan to expand the company’s manufacturing of cotton goods in Uzbekistan allows it to profit from forced labour and to sell illicit goods” (06 Jul 16).

Cradle to Cradle-Certified materials in one online database: The new Fashion Positive Materials Collection includes 39 materials for fashion applications that are Cradle to Cradle-Certified or have received a Material Health Certificate, which at higher levels of certification ensures safe materials suitable for circular design (08 Jul 16).

Poverty wages for Nike, adidas and Puma workers: “The three main sportswear sponsors of the UEFA European championship 2016, Nike, adidas and Puma, pay poverty wages to the workers that stitch their shirts, shows a report by Collectif Ethique sur l’étiquette (Clean Clothes Campaign in France) …. The report ‘Foul Play’ exposes the adverse impact on workers of a business model based on low labour costs and relocation to countries with the lowest wages and weak labour regulation” (06 Jul 16).

You can see the full report here in English (downloads as PDF).

Eight drivers of change: On 29 June 2016, the Ethical Fashion Forum brought together fashion industry notables for the first in a series of round tables at the House of Lords in London. The goal was to drive meaningful change for a more sustainable fashion industry. They came up with eight ideas, including: i) rebranding sustainability – “sustainability needs to be sexier, to get more luxury brands to the table”; iii) Creating a level playing field – “we need to create tools that help measure social and environmental impact so that everyone is on the same page”; v) engaging the next generation – “The task for us is to ensure that every level of student is engaged in this” (06 Jul 16).

Retail’s growing reverse supply chain problem: With more consumers ordering goods online, retailers are grappling with the growing problem, and cost, of return waste. “Every year, 2 million tons (or 4 billion pounds) of retail returns are loaded into landfills, according to Environmental Capital Group, many of which are already brimming to capacity and contributing to environmental problems like groundwater contamination and greenhouse gas emissions” (12 Jul 16).

Forum for the Future’s Cotton 2040: Forum for the Future has been working on integrating and accelerating efforts for a systemic shift towards sustainability in the cotton industry. Cotton 2040 aims to catalyse current sustainability initiatives in the global cotton industry by integrating and focusing the activities of different players to create a systemic shift across the sector (Jul 16).

A sustainable Japan is a happy Japan: The non-profit organisation Japan for Sustainability monitors progress on environmental and social issues, as well as levels of happiness. Along with the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, it has set its sight on the fashion industry, launching initiatives that include a Kyoto city programme to recycle school uniforms, DeLorean’s plans to recycle clothes and textiles and turn them into bio-diesel, and production of organic cotton.

Yoga pants cause decline in cotton use: “This is a real problem for cotton,” says Berrye Worsham, president and CEO of Cotton Incorporated. “Women are now wearing more yoga pants. The problem for cotton is twofold. These yoga pants contain more synthetic fibre than denim and more fibre goes into denim than yoga pants” (05 Jul 16).

VF commits to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025 at owned and operated plants: VF’s Director of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility in EMEA, Anna Maria Rugarli, made the remarks in Europe recently, adding that VF is also pursuing zero waste designations for its US and international distribution centres (where at least 95 percent of waste will be diverted from landfills through recycling, composting and reuse (28 Jun 16).

The greening of adidas: Starting with $750,000 to spend on seven in-store projects involving mostly lighting retrofits and cooling systems, adidas has since funded 49 energy efficiency projects at a cost of about $5.5 million (setting aside $2 to $3 million a year to continue the work). The internal rate of return has averaged 33 per cent (06 May 16).

How H&M will become a changemaker for sustainable fashion: The article says that H&M is developing a new sustainability strategy with a focus on the circular economy, and consists mainly of an interview with Anna Gedda, the company’s Head of Sustainability (05 Jul 16).

British designer makes ethical and sustainable fashion line: Valerie Goode talks about the inspiration behind her sustainable, ethical and natural womenswear brand, Kitty Ferreira.

“Q: You worked in China for a year, what was your experience there?

VG: Whilst I was there, I experienced the pollution out there, and it’s so bad that I actually found it hard to breathe. Because I witnessed this pollution, I felt like I needed to do something about it. So when I decided to launch my own company, I decided to source all my materials from the UK, using upcycled fabrics, so I don’t make new fabric from scratch. I source as much as I can from the UK to keep my carbon footprint as low as possible” (20 Jun 16).

Olderbrother leading ‘slow clothing’ movement: Co-founders Bobby Bonaparte and Max Kingery have an interesting take on fashion:

“We grew up considering the food we put into our bodies. Asking, where it was from, who was growing it, and was it natural. Keenly aware of the difference in taste between a conventional, waxy apple and the tastebud bursting flavor of an organic apple. After a few years in the conventional garment industry, it became clear to us that clothing deserved the same consideration” (07 Jul 16).

Zilli announces job-protection plan: Since 2014, luxury label Zilli has experienced a significant decline in sales (-40%), but rather than laying off workers the Schimel family (the majority shareholder) has announced a job-protection plan for 36 jobs (06 Jul 16).

University of South Wales confers honorary PhD on Jeff Banks: Jeff Banks, who was just 13 when he set up his first fashion business and eventually co-created and went on to present the BBC’s The Clothes Show from 1986 until 2000, is known for his support for ethical clothing production and has previously spoken about the importance of investing in clothes factories in places like Bangladesh (07 Jul 16).

Texas factory with high-tech, denim expertise and social message: Apparel factory Roicom USA is based in El Paso, Texas, and is the commercial sister company to ReadyOne, a not-for-profit sewing factory that produces apparel and other soft goods for the US military (where 75 per cent of working hours are performed by employees with severe disabilities). Roicom USA is planning to lure denim brands and other apparel makers to Texas with state-of-the-art machinery and seasoned denim-industry executives (30 Jun 16).  

Hong Kong researchers may have developed a solution to food waste problem: The Hong Kong Research Institute for Textiles Apparel has developed a technique to transform waste into fibre, although further work will be required before it can be used to make clothes. The technique converts food waste into polylactic acid, which can then be spun into fibres for use in textiles. An “international fashion retailer” has reportedly shown interest (22 May 16).

56 per cent of ASEAN jobs at risk from automation, says ILO: An ILO study says that about 137 million workers, or 56 percent of the salaried workforce from Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, fall under the high-risk category of losing their jobs due to increasing automation in the next 20 years. “Of the 9 million people working in the region’s textiles, clothing and footwear industry, 64 percent of Indonesian workers are at high risk of losing their jobs to automation, 86 percent in Vietnam, and 88 percent in Cambodia” (10 Jul 16). The report, ASEAN in transformation: How technology is changing jobs and enterprises, highlights textiles, clothing and footwear as the most vulnerable industry. The full report (downloads as PDF) is available here.

Cambodia Labour Court ready by next year: Hmmm, that reminds me…

First, there’s the report from last week – i.e., July 2016 – that the Labour Court will be ready to hear cases by the end of 2017 (06 Jul 16).

Second, I co-authored a working paper (downloads as PDF) published way back in November 2002 (nearly 14 years ago), which noted the following: “The 1993 constitution [of Cambodia] provides for an independent judiciary under a Supreme Court. The government drew up a new labour law in 1997, and mandated the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, and Veteran Affairs (MOSALVY) with the power to implement it. The government also promised the provide Labour Courts but has not yet done so” (see p. 3).

As my co-author noted in that paper (p. 57), “Article 387 of the [Cambodian] Labour Law states that: ‘Labour Courts shall be created that have jurisdiction over the individual disputes occurring between workers and employers regarding the execution of the labour contract or the apprenticeship contract.’ […] As mentioned above, Cambodia has no Labour Court…”

A living wage is the Achilles heel of ethical fashion in Sri Lanka: This is a thoughtful article by two academics, taking the recent ‘slave labour’ allegations levelled at Beyoncé’s Ivy Park brand as a starting point. It’s well worth reading. 

“… MAS Holdings and many other leading Sri Lankan suppliers tend to perform very well in meeting conventional monitoring and compliance standards. Yet, the concerns raised around wages by the recent media foray do hold water. Sri Lankan garment workers are not paid a living wage. As one of us has argued elsewhere, wages are the Achilles heel of the Sri Lankan apparel industry. […] Sri Lankan suppliers may need to adjust their business models to account for the risk of tarnishing their Garments without Guilt brand. The Sri Lankan government, in turn, has a role to play in setting a minimum wage that adequately protects worker welfare and moves the country from being at the back of the pack, globally.”

As I said, a thoughtful piece, well worth reading (05 Jul 16).

@Beyoncé: Who makes Ivy Park? Speaking of Sri Lanka and Beyoncé, here’s something interesting from Remake: “I want to know her. Let’s change her life!”

“How amazing would it be for her to also know the women who make Ivy Park? It would change the maker’s life! Our audience was excited to get in formation for the maker and took to Twitter after, to invite Beyoncé to become a Remaker”.

How amazing, indeed.

Brands stand by Bangladesh: Fashion brands and retailers including Gap and Walmart working to improve safety in Bangladeshi factories, are still committed to sourcing from the country despite a series of attacks claimed by Islamist militants. “Member companies will continue to stay the course,” James Moriarty, country director for the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. “I am not aware of brands withdrawing or cancelling contracts,” he said (12 Jul 16).

Can ethical fashion prevent violence against women? I have no idea, but a research team from the University of Melbourne and BRAC University in Bangladesh plans to find out.

“This project will examine the role of ethical fashion enterprises in Bangladesh in the primary prevention of violence against women by (1) investigating how such enterprises contribute to increased respect and recognition for women’s labour, and (2) asking whether the benefits of ethical fashion are individual and localised ones, or whether they contribute to a broader, systematic infrastructure for the prevention of violence against women” (Jul 16).

Ethical fashion benefits from employee engagement: The verdict might not be in yet on the research project above, but an article last week from India thinks ethical fashion can certainly make a difference. Some of India’s textile factories are finding that improving their employees’ lives is good for the bottom line. The focus of the article is Mandala Apparels, whose CEO Anjali Schiavina says treating employees well and ensuring they benefit directly from the company’s success will improve employee retention (14 Jun 16).

Report says chaos in supply chains worsens conditions in Chinese factories: This report is not focused on textile and apparel supply chains, but on electronics instead. However, I thought the findings and message might be useful.

Some background: the report is by China Labor Watch, a US-based NGO with around 20 years of monitoring conditions in Chinese factories. “On November 26th, 2015, China Labor Watch received a complaint through email, saying that a worker passed away because of a heart attack whilst working at Dongguan Chenming Electronic Company Ltd (Taiwan Stock Exchange code: 3013). The worker who wrote the email suspected that the victim had died of excessive overtime work. […]After receiving this complaint, CLW decided to send an investigator to Chengming to conduct an undercover investigation” (22 Jun 16).

The investigation uncovered long hours (including up to 165 hours overtime per month and only one day off every quarter), and flagrant violations of Chinese labour law and codes of conduct from major brands sourcing from the factory. You can read the full report here (downloads as PDF).

There are two reasons why I think this report is of interest to the textile and garment industry. First, some of the brands sourcing from the factory (such as HP) have worked very hard indeed on compliance (I used to sit on the Stakeholder Advisory Board for HP and have some insight into just how much effort they put into this). If it’s happening in HP suppliers, then the issues raised in the report can happen almost anywhere. Second, with the new focus on slavery, I predict that NGOs like CLW will turn their attention to textile and garment producers. If a company is uncertain about what’s really going on in supplier factories in China (and elsewhere, for that matter), now is the time to think seriously about the risk that poses.

Garment factory workers finally get their due: You might recall a story in last week’s FSWIR about the auction of a garment factory after the owner fled the country without paying workers’ back pay. Mr. U Myint Than paid $ 47,678 for the facilities, and all workers have received wages owing (05 Jul 16).

(Image, veeterzy, CCO).