Brands in this issue include: Banana Republic, Burberry and REI (among brands finding a receptive market in re-used apparel), Bestseller (launches new sustainability strategy), H&M (why women are protesting against the company; hosts living wage summit in Cambodia), Pons (the hard realities of sustainability), REI (earns top honours for best-in-class corporate social impact efforts), Ross (garment workers protest low wages), Tchibo (Q&A on ACT and living wages), and more.

Reports released this week:

In general news:

  • Sustainability is under the microscope and few are prepared

  • “Beware of the ‘Circular Fairies’!”

  • Lao garment industry continues to face challenges

  • Corporate social responsibility helps hide workers’ rights abuse until brands can quietly exit

In the supply chain:                                                                    

  • Bangladesh: the Alliance announces the end and releases its last report; workers and police clash in Dhaka (factories closed); decision on Accord delayed; fire in cotton warehouse; govt approves 52 more firms for assessment; and members angry over plants to extend tenure of BGMEA

  • Cambodia: concern over the EU’s threat of withdrawing tariff-free access; labour leaders found guilty in long-delayed court case, given suspended sentences; and a new report on rising production targets in wake of wage rise

  • Pakistan: fire in garment factory

  • US: underpaid workers in LA producing for fast fashion brands

Manufacturers in this issue include: Archroma (CEO talks about textile sector chemical management harmonisation), Covestro (very strong rating on sustainability), Jeanologia (joins SAC), Top Glove (mulls legal action against The Guardian), and more.

Quotes of the week:

  • “The average wage [excluding overtime] at supplier factories producing for H&M group is between 24% (Cambodia) to 93% (China) higher than the minimum wage level.” H&M (11 Dec).

By Stephen Frost, CUHK Business School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.


When will there be living wages in the textile industry? “[The living wage is a] big problem that we cannot solve as a single company, but only together with other actors. That’s why unions and 21 brands, including distributors from Europe, the US and Australia, are working to make sure that all workers in the textile industry earn living wages. To this end, in 2016 the initiative ACT (Action Collaboration Transformation) was founded. How far is the initiative today - in December 2018? Are there any purchasing practices and competitive challenges that make it difficult, if not impossible, to move forward? I spoke with my colleague Nanda Bergstein, Director Corporate Responsibility [at Tchibo], and Frank Hoffer, CEO ACT and longtime expert of the International Labor Organization” (13 Dec – in German).

REI earns top honors for best-in-class corporate social impact efforts: “REI Co-op … will be honored with the Golden Halo Award, the highest honor for companies and causes that collaborate to produce financial and economic dividends, at the Engage for Good conference in May 2019. This 17th set of Golden Halo Awards, given each year to one business and one nonprofit for excellence in corporate social impact, will coincidentally be bestowed upon two organizations focused on the outdoors” (11 Dec).

Garment workers protest low wages at Ross headquarters in Dublin: “About 65 garment workers allege “sweatshop conditions” in local factories that produce clothing for the discount retail chain” (11 Dec).

How to build a sustainable brand like Patagonia on a budget: “For small and medium-sized fashion brands, implementing a sustainability programme that works can be a challenge. BoF boils down four tips to help get any business get started” (11 Dec).

Why women workers are protesting against H&M: “With 239 companies just in the UK failing to provide living wages to its workers, one can only imagine how many companies around the world exploit their workers. Why then is there a concerted, concentrated effort to call just H&M out? The reasons for it are several” (11 Dec).

H&M Group hosts fair living wage summit 2018: “Today, H&M group brings together the textile and fashion industry at the Fair Living Wage Summit 2018 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to discuss one of the most important issues of our industry: how to achieve fair living wages in global production markets” (11 Dec).

Letter from Jenny Fagerlin, Global Social Sustainability Manager H&M group: “To make fair living wages a reality for garment workers around the world, there are certain steps that must be taken. If you skip the first steps because you are eager to hurry things up, you will end up with a shaky foundation that does not contribute to systemic change. The first steps are all about creating mechanisms, processes and collaborations – as well as a new mind-set. Indeed, complex and not very straight-forward things to communicate around, but essential when it comes to making fair living wages a reality for garment workers. That is what we have been working towards these past five years” (11 Dec).

H&M, Cambodia, and living wages in textile and footwear factories: “Today’s video covers some diverse territory, from Cambodia, living wages, and H&M, to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a Cambodian NGO called the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (or CENTRAL), Better Factories Cambodia, and an organisation called Better Buying” (11 Dec – 4:10-minute video).

Review of H&M group’s Roadmap to Fair Living Wage: “H&M group has taken bold action in becoming the first apparel brand to address the complex wage issue and set significant public goals to help achieve what it terms “fair, living wages” (FLW) for garment workers. It has sought to deliver its Fair Living Wage Roadmap (FLWR) amid challenging market conditions, political instability and intense stakeholder scrutiny. Despite this, it has persevered in implementing a considered and coherent strategy, supported by commitment at a senior level, and shown flexibility and a willingness to learn and adapt. Challenges have arisen due to different interpretations of H&M group’s approach and consequently different expectations” (10 Dec). [Ed’s note: report by Ethical Trading Initiative. See also a short review of it here.]

A fashionable shoe that tackles the hard realities of sustainability: “This husband-wife duo have been bringing a Spanish handmade shoe to the US since 2011. Entirely made by artisans, using primarily natural materials, Pons is a farmer’s shoe turned fashionable. The couple is passionate about preserving the heritage of Menorca. But in an era of sustainability, they’re upfront and honest about some of the challenges facing brands like themselves in footwear” (10 Dec).

Bestseller launches new sustainability strategy: “Danish fashion group Bestseller, which includes Vero Moda, Jack and Jones, Only and Noisy May, has unveiled what it is calling an “ambitious” new strategy that will make sustainability “central to its way of doing business”” (10 Dec).

Resale in vogue: Burberry, Banana Republic, The North Face find treasure in recycled fashion: “Banana Republic, Burberry and REI are among a lengthening list of mainstream retailers that are finding a receptive market in re-used apparel. They join a number of secondhand- and consignment-focused startups, many of which are “re-commerce” only, including ThredUp, Reformation, PoshMark and The RealReal. The mainstreaming of secondhand clothing is in fact among the 2019 retail predictions by Global Retail Alliance” (10 Dec).


Shaping a good fashion future: “C&A Foundation commissioned two studies to examine the different pathways for transitioning to a more sustainable fashion industry through circular economy. In December, we will launch the reports: Pathways to Transformative Change by DRIFT, and Governance for the Circular Economy by Origame Consultancy” (12 Dec).

Sustainability is under the microscope and few are prepared: “The reality is, apparel is a dirty business that consumes more than its share of natural resources. Or at least it has been. And while that’s starting to change, most fashion firms are evolving very slowly” (12 Dec).

“Beware of the ‘Circular Fairies’!”  “Jason Kibbey, CEO of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), has been been leading one of the most important sustainability trade organizations in the apparel sector for the past 8 years. Jason joins Mike Schragger online from his office in San Francisco to chat about the progress the apparel sector is making, his assessment of the SAC to date, and his warning that a circular vision for the apparel sector can become a distraction if it prevents the industry from investing in proven solutions that can be implemented today” (12 Dec – 1:01:38-hour podcasat).

Lao garment industry continues to face challenges: “Local clothing manufacturers are encountering ongoing hurdles to survive and thrive, according to the Association of the Lao Garment Industry. Customers want quality products and the manufacturers hold little power to bargain as their costs rise while the prices received remain constant, the association’s president Xaybandith Rasphone pointed out at the eighth general assembly of the association in Vientiane last week” (12 Dec).

Corporate social responsibility helps hide workers’ rights abuse until brands can quietly exit: “Corporations rarely volunteer to do the right thing, yet responses to labour exploitation continue to rely upon corporate goodwill to protect worker rights. A different future requires a different approach” (11 Dec). [Ed’s note: by Judy Gearhart is Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum.]



Alliance announces end of its tenure: “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has announced end of its tenure in Bangladesh. The platform of North American fashion brands and retailers also said that from the beginning of 2019 the brands would engage a local company to monitor safety in the factories from which they procure products” (14 Dec).

Alliance: RMG factories achieve unprecedented progress in safety: “The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety says readymade garment factories affiliated with it have made remarkable headway in improving safety over the last five years. “Maintaining this progress must remain an ongoing effort-and for our member brands, it will remain a top priority long beyond the Alliance’s departure,” Alliance Executive Director Jim Moriarty was quoted as saying in a statement released on Thursday. Alliance unveiled its fifth and final annual report on Thursday” (13 Dec). [Ed’s note: see the Alliance report here.]

50 garment units shut over fear of unrest: “Production in as many as 50 garment units remained suspended in the last three days in fear of unrest as the workers were demonstrating for the implementation of the new wage, factory owners said yesterday” (13 Dec).

25 people injured in police-RMG workers clashes in Gazipur: “At least 25 people, including policemen, were injured in clashes between the police and readymade garment workers at different points in Gazipur on Wednesday. Workers said that they were staging demonstrations in the area demanding implementation of the new wage structure and the police opened fire on them, hurled teargas shells at them to disperse their gathering. Owners of at least 20 garment factories in the area shut their day’s operation fearing that the unrest might spread further” (13 Dec).

BGMEA senses plot to create unrest in RMG: “A vested quarter is behind the recent unrest at some 50 readymade garment factories in Gazipur and Ashulia in the name of dissatisfaction over new wage board ahead of the December 30 polls, claimed Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Md Siddiqur Rahman on Wednesday” (13 Dec).

Move to ‘paralyse’ Accord to put workers safety at risk: global rights groups: “Global labour rights groups on Monday said that Bangladesh government’s move to prevent operation of Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a platform of European buyers and retailers, would put worker safety in the country’s readymade garment sector at risk. In a joint statement, the global union signatories to the Accord — IndustriALL and UNI — and the four witness signatories — Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and Worker Rights Consortium — called on the trading partners of Bangladesh and global apparel brands to press the government of Bangladesh to refrain from imposing impediments to the Accord continuing its life-saving work” (12 Dec).

Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety reports safety results in fifth and final year: “The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (“Alliance”) released its fifth and final annual report today, announcing near completion of factory safety improvements as well the full execution of its renowned fire safety training and 24-hour worker helpline to the more than 1.5 million workers in Alliance-affiliated factories” (11 Dec).

Fire catches cotton factory in Habiganj: “A fire erupted at a cotton factory in Habiganj’s Madhabpur Upazila early Tuesday. According to the local people, the fire broke out at warehouse of Saiham Textile Mills around 1am” (11 Dec).

Decision about Bangladesh Accord further stalled: “In the government’s submission to the High Court regarding the Accord’s appeal against an order that it cease operating in Bangladesh from 30th November, it has stated that the Accord should only be allowed to continue operations in Bangladesh under a set of highly obstructive constraints, which would strip the globally-respected safety initiative of its ability to operate independently of government and employer control. The constraints include that this will be the last extension allowed to the Accord maintaining its office in Dhaka” (11 Dec).

Again, int’l pressure on Bangladesh for continuation of Accord: “With Accord’s extension hanging in the Supreme Court for a further order, international pressures are continuing to pour in – in support of the European buyers’ platform – and against the local authorities. Clean Clothes Campaign, international rights organisation for apparel industry, issued a statement on December 10, 2018 stating that Bangladesh government wants to paralyse Accord and strip its independence” (11 Dec).

Govt approves 52 more firms for assessment: “The government has listed 52 more engineering firms to conduct detailed engineering assessment on fire and electrical faults in readymade garment factories under a national initiative to ensue engineering support for factories with the aim of expediting remediation works” (11 Dec).

BGMEA board move over tenure extension again angers members: “A move of the current board of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to persuade the government to extend its tenure for the third time has angered the trade body’s general members who have long been waiting for elections to pick their leaders” (10 Dec).


‘If the factory closes what could I afford to eat?’ “Cambodia's garments manufacturing sector has boomed in recent years, in no small part due to the EU granting the country's exports tariff-free access to Europe, starting back in 2012. This has led to around 200 international fashion brands now using more than 600 factories in the country, lured by both the country's low wages, and the fact they don't have to pay any duties when exporting the EU. However, back at the start of October the EU warned that Cambodia's tariff-free access to the European single market could come to an end if the government did not improve political freedom and human rights in the country” (13 Dec).

Cambodian court gives suspended sentences to labour leaders: “Six Cambodian union leaders on Tuesday each received suspended 2 1/2-year prison terms in connection with labour protests about five years ago in which four garment workers were killed and around 20 others hurt. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the labour leaders guilty on four charges involving violence and property damage at protests on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The court also ordered the six to jointly pay in compensation of 35 million riels ($8,750) to two policemen said to have been victims of protest violence” (11 Dec). [Ed’s note: see also Cambodia union leaders convicted over protests, jail terms suspended: “A Cambodian court found six union leaders guilty on Tuesday of instigating violent protests against the government in 2013 and 2014, but suspended their jail terms” (11 Dec).]

‘Major strides’ to cut child labor in Cambodia’s fashion factories: “While the United Nations says child labor has fallen sharply in Cambodia’s garment factories, many informal subcontractors using children are escaping scrutiny, activists said on Tuesday … Better Factories Cambodia … found just 10 cases of child labor, down from 74 in 2014, in its latest survey of almost 500 licensed garment export factories” (11 Dec). [Ed’s note: this data is from a recent Better Factories Cambodia report, which you can see here.]

Centre concerned over targets: “The Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights has found that companies are annually increasing production targets for workers in tandem with the rise in minimum wages” (11 Dec). [Ed’s note: the report, Rising production targets undermining minimum wage increases, can be found here (with a short summary here). Brands identified as sourcing from factories researched include C&A, H&M, Uniqlo, Walmart, Ralph Lauren, Levi Strauss, Gap, and Old Navy. See also, Review of H&M group’s Roadmap to Fair Living Wage, by Ethical Trading Initiative.]

Union protest verdicts date set: “Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday heard the case of six trade union leaders who were sued by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) over violent protests demanding increased wages in late 2013 and early 2014, despite GMAC having withdrawn its complaint” (10 Dec).


Breakthrough partnership: “In partnership with Breakthrough, a human rights organisation, [C&A Foundation] takes a holistic approach to address gender-based violence (GBV) in the apparel industry in India. Since 2017, we are creating awareness and inspiring garment workers to combat gender based violence (GBV) and discrimination against women within their workplace, in their communities and during their commute to work” (11 Dec).


Fire in Karachi garment factory reduces goods to ashes: “A fire erupted in a factory near Saba Cinema located in North Karachi area in the wee hours of Sunday and reduced large amount of machinery and goods to ashes … [an] official informed that there were no adequate arrangements in the factory to extinguish the blaze” (09 Dec).


Behind ‘fast fashion’ brands are underpaid garment workers working in sweatshop conditions: “Currently Dewi works at a garment manufacturing factory near the intersection of Wall Street and 8th Street on the outskirts of the Fashion District. Dewi said that the factory is a supplier for Fashion Nova. But Dewi earns around $300 to $350 per month even though she works at least 40 hours every week” (12 Dec).


Covestro rated and added to SE German Index: “Standard Ethics has issued a “EE+”1 [very strong] rating to Covestro AG and added it to its German Index … The corporate governance model and sustainability reporting practices of Covestro are considered good” (13 Dec).

Jeanologia joins Sustainable Apparel Coalition: “Jeanologia, the Spanish company leader in development of sustainable and efficient technology, joins the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and will use the group’s sustainability measurement suite of tools, the Higg Index, to drive environmental and social responsibility throughout its supply chain … Begoña García, Jeanologia R&D Sustainable Process team highlighted that “the transformation of the textile industry into a  more sustainable one need to be done by bringing together all industry stakeholders. SAC is doing so setting up the necessary standards to measure sustainability performance of the complex textile manufacturing process” (12 Dec).

Glove maker mulls suing British newspaper over damaging report: “Top Glove Corp Bhd is considering taking legal action against a British daily over a report alleging forced labour conditions at its plants, which caused its share prices to plunge, wiping off RM900 million in a single day of trading at Bursa Malaysia. Group chairman Lim Wee Chai told The Malaysian Insight the report in The Guardian was unfair and misleading” (12 Dec). [Ed’s note: see the last issue of FSWIR for the original story. See also Top Glove worker abuse allegations ‘could be work of rivals’ (12 Dec); and MARGMA statement on foreign workers rights (12 Dec).]

Farm to label: Turning corn into textiles: “Dow Chemical collaborated with Cargill to create a corn-based fiber. The result was Ingeo products [produced by NatureWorks], named for “ingredients from the earth,” which include fibers used for clothing, bedding and facial wipes” (11 Dec).

Finland chooses sustainable fashion – a gown made of birch in time for the holidays: “An Aalto University-designed and -produced dress made of birch trees shows how one day we will all look -- and feel -- good in sustainable fabrics … The Ioncell process, developed by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki, aims to change the way we make clothes. It creates quality textile fibres from a range of raw materials, including wood, recycled newspaper or cardboard, and old cotton textiles” (10 Dec).

Xander Wessels Planet Textiles interview: “Is the harmonisation of textile sector chemical management a realistic goal? Xander Wessels, CEO of Archroma, believes so” (24 Sep).

CONFERENCES & SEMINARS                                        

[New listings or updated information marked with *]

16 January, Frankfurt: Fashionsustain:  Puts the spotlight on materials and processes, innovations, circularity concepts and industry industrial applications (with a focus on water).

16 – 17 January, Delhi: International Workshop Agreement for the screening of GMOs in cotton and textiles: “The IWA is about a protocol for GMO screening in cotton and textiles.”

21 – 23 January, New York City: Texworld USA: The winter show will focus on sustainability.

22 – 24 January, Medellin, Columbia: Colombiatex 2019: includes highlighting the best practices of 25 companies that are committed to this subject with innovation, social and environmental responsibility.

24 January, London: 8th Future Fabrics Expo: “Source from 5000+ fabrics, yarns, leathers, trims with a reduced environmental impact from over 150 mills and suppliers.”

29 January – 07 February, Various locations in India/Pakistan: 1 Day Leather Processing Course: “Do you source from India or Pakistan? Get your supply chain trained in leather processing.”

18 February, Izmir, Turkey: GOTS Regional Seminar Turkey: “Through focused and challenging discussions, this one-day seminar shall address pressing issues relevant to the organic textiles industry.” 

25 February, Tempe, Arizona: GRI Reporters’ Summit: North America: “3rd Annual GRI Reporters’ Summit: Practical Solutions to Improve your Sustainability Reporting.”

26 – 28 February, Phoenix, AZ: GreenBiz 19: “Premier annual event for sustainable business leaders.”

28 February, London: The Nature of Fashion: “The panel, which will include Edwina Ehrman and Kate Fletcher, will explore how to use fashion as a pro-environmental force.”

02 May, Dhaka: Bangladesh Fashionology Summit: Transparency through technology, technology for decent work and environment, future skills development.

15 – 16 May, Copenhagen: Copenhagen Fashion Summit: “Join us this May when fashion’s most visionary and innovative minds gather to discuss the most critical issues facing our industry and planet.”

10 – 12 June, London: Ethical Corporation’s 18th Responsible Business Summit Europe: “It’s time to Lead: Innovate, Engage and Collaborate.”

18 – 20 June, Minneapolis, USA: Circularity 19: “Circularity 19 will bring together more than 500 thought leaders and practitioners to define and accelerate the circular economy.”

22 June, Barcelona: Plante Textiles 2019: “The 10th edition of Planet Textiles will be a seminal event on sustainability in the textile manufacturing sector and will see an unrivalled gathering of experts from the entire fashion value chain.”

(Photo Lukas Bieri, CCO)

Disclaimer: The Fashion Sustainability Week in Review (FSWIR) is a twice-weekly roundup of sustainability news items relevant to the fashion, apparel, textile and related industries. The views and opinions expressed in the FSWIR by individual authors and/or media outlets cited do not necessarily reflect the position of GoBlu International or any individual associated with the company.