Fair for people, good for the environment: Improving production conditions in the textile and garment industry in Asia

Project description

Title: Promoting sustainability in the textile and garment industry in Asia (FABRIC)
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Asia, particularly Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Pakistan and Viet Nam
Overall term: 2015 to 2021

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Context

The textile industry is a key sector of the economy in many Asian countries. In Bangladesh and Cambodia, for example, it accounts for around 80 per cent of total export revenue, while in Pakistan the corresponding figure is over 50 per cent. The goal is further growth. Although the underlying conditions in these countries vary considerably, the major challenges they face are similar: ensuring decent conditions for workers and reducing environmental impacts. 

Social, ecological and economic conditions in the industry need to be improved in order to overcome these challenges while ensuring continued growth. However, this can only be done by adopting a joint approach. Local production companies, business associations, the relevant ministries, trade unions, civil society and international fashion brands can all learn a lot from each other if they work together more closely than before.

Objective

The production conditions in the Asian textile and garment industry are fair for people and good for the environment.

Approach

Regional dialogue and knowledge sharing: Well-integrated networks and intensive knowledge sharing help the sector to implement socially responsible, environmentally sound and, at the same time, economically viable business models across the board. The project puts in place the prerequisites for such a dialogue by bringing actors together. It creates trust and promotes greater willingness to share knowledge. 

Cooperation with the private sector: The project encourages international buyers to use their market power in support of better social and environmental standards. They can improve the situation in local factories by working with producers to develop solutions for better working conditions, for example. These solutions can be implemented more broadly by means of strategic alliances or integrated development partnerships. 

Social and labour standards: Workers are increasingly willing to actively pursue their rights. At the same time, the pressure exerted by consumers and international buyers is growing. The project aims to increase awareness, provide information and develop capacity in the area of labour and social standards. To this end, FABRIC works with representatives of both employers and workers by promoting social dialogue, encouraging the representation of various interests in factories, and supporting the introduction of management systems.

Gender equality: The majority of employees in the textile and garment industry are women. Most work in low-skilled, poorly paid jobs with little prospect of job progression. This project creates the conditions for them to be able to represent their own interests. It improves the advisory services available to female employees and develops targeted training measures. 

Environment: FABRIC aims to disseminate regional learning experiences and approaches on environmental and resource management in a transnational manner. In part, this involves passing on specific knowledge – for example, on how to avoid using toxic chemicals. On the other hand, the project makes it clear to participating groups just how important efficient environmental management is and supports them in the implementation of corresponding measures.

Results

Labour conditions and rights: Around 70,000 workers at more than 50 factories in Cambodia, Myanmar and Pakistan have benefited from dialogue training with managers and employee representatives. The project has implemented a number of these training measures in cooperation with international retail chains. One effect of this was that the accident rate at participating factories fell by up to 34 per cent following the training measures. In Cambodia, FABRIC worked with the Ministry of Labour to revise the code of conduct for labour inspectors and trained 180 labour inspectors on this basis.

Female workers’ rights: Female workers in Myanmar can meet outside of work at women’s centres where FABRIC has set up a legal advice service. To date, around 600 women have used the service to learn more about the main provisions of labour law. In cooperation with sequa gGmbH, the project has developed an app called Shwe Job that provides information on employment law and occupational health and safety. Over 11,000 workers use this app, and 20 manufacturers have introduced it at their factories.

Regional knowledge sharing: FABRIC has established STAR (Sustainable Textile of the Asian Region), the first inter-Asian network of producer associations. One result of this network has been the Asian Dialogues on Sustainable Production in the Textile and Garment Sector, a series of conferences where representatives of the industry in Asia, government bodies, buyers and employees come together to engage in dialogue and strengthen their cooperation. More than 600 participants have attended the eight events held in five partner countries.

Cooperation with Chinese investors: Most textile factories in Cambodia and Myanmar are owned by foreign investors, primarily from China. FABRIC has organised training events where they have been able to learn about issues such as local employment law, cooperation with trade unions, and characteristics of local culture.

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