Customised business concepts: 4th lab of tomorrow looks at 'Sustainable Textiles Production in Cambodia'

The conditions under which textiles are produced in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Cambodia are widely debated the world over. But instead of just talking, the participants at the fourth 'lab of tomorrow' set about finding concrete solutions – thus creating a starting point for projects that are scheduled to follow on soon.

Commissioned by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, this is the fourth time that a lab of tomorrow has been held. In attendance in Berlin were 33 participants from Cambodia and Europe with completely different professional profiles: from senior officials from Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, representatives of NGOs and the IT sector, through to the operations floor manager of a Cambodian textiles production company that employs around 1,500 workers.

The lab of tomorrow generates new ideas by bringing together groups of professionals from different fields.
The lab of tomorrow generates new ideas by bringing together groups of professionals from different fields.

The participants met up from 4 to 6 October in Berlin with the objective of mapping out sustainable and interdisciplinary business-driven solutions for effective labour inspections in Cambodia. Each challenge is rooted in a GIZ project and is to be resolved with the assistance of European companies – this time in cooperation with the project ‘Social and Labour Standards in the Textile and Garment Sector in Asia’, the sector programme ‘Sustainability in Textiles Supply Chains’ and the ‘Partnership for Sustainable Textiles’.

Working together to crack the problem

Low wages, poor working conditions and no social protection are just a few of the many problems facing this sector. The Cambodian Government is therefore keen to monitor compliance with industrial labour standards more strictly through factory inspections. However, corruption and resource bottlenecks are making it difficult for the inspectors to do their job.

Using the design-thinking method – and a substantial number of coloured post-it notes and Lego stones – five teams of participants generated ideas through an intensive process of collaboration. At the start of the three-day lab, the first step involved defining which groups the solutions should target. As soon as this was done, everything else quickly fell into place. This is how Enrico Rima from Lebenskleidung, a textile agency for organic fabrics, summed it up: 'Each day was completely different. The first day was generally more about exchanging facts and establishing the status quo, which was pretty depressing given the many problems surrounding this topic. But things changed quickly on day two. We explored some technical ideas and came up with a great and practicable solution. And on the last day everything really began to take on form, and I have to say I'm totally enthusiastic and convinced about our idea.'

Working in teams of five, the participants mapped out and discussed their ideas.
Working in teams of five, the participants mapped out and discussed their ideas.

Putting the solution to the test

One of the ideas produced at the lab is based on an app which worker representatives and factory managers can use independently of each other to rate their place of work and pinpoint any problem areas. These ratings are then forwarded electronically to a labour inspector at the ministry, who can then see how past assessments differ from the latest ratings. Customers can also inspect these ratings. On one point all five working groups were in agreement: There has to be more transparency. For that reason, another team explored the possibility of making key factory indicators – such as their energy use patterns as well as current ratings and reports – accessible via a public database.

Seng Sakda, Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.
Seng Sakda, Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

Seng Sakda, Secretary of State of the Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, was very impressed with all five ideas. 'Things are about to change. It was great to see how different stakeholders were interested in resolving the problems and how they worked together to find solutions. In future I will personally back the implementation of all the ideas developed here and will provide ongoing assistance to the teams when required.’

From 29 November through to 1 December, the participants are scheduled to meet again in Phnom Penh. On site, their task will be to work together to further develop and test their ideas. And there is even more good news to end on: Other big names in the textile industry have already said they are interested in the ideas and would like to take part in the workshop in Cambodia.