The fashion industry is taking steps to become more environmentally friendly. However, ensuring sustainability is difficult because fashion has long, dispersed, fragmented supply chains and is notoriously secretive. A number of fashion brands have improved their environmental sustainability, for example the use of organic materials; but, geographical distance between buyers and suppliers and lack of transparency prevent environmental and social sustainability across supply chains. Even though many companies claim to focus on sustainability, their focus is on environmental issues, with social issues relatively ignored.
What is important to acknowledge is that there are trade-offs and tensions not only between business goals and sustainability but also between environmental and social sustainability. We need to know more about the social outcomes of environmental sustainability demands by fashion companies. Economic pressure and power disparities in the supply chain have led to multiple scandals and issues.
Problems often occur at supply chain stages far removed from the brands. Therefore, sustainability problems are difficult to predict or eliminate. Knowledge development and knowledge exchange are fundamental systemic actions for long-term sustainability but, until now, concepts of justice and inclusivity have been ignored.
Environmental demands need a parallel focus on justice and fairness. In order to ensure that the transition to a circular economy happens in a fairer and more inclusive way, we need to focus on justice and ethics of sustainability. Fortunately, due to the scale of the industry and that women are the majority of fashion workers, these challenges also present significant opportunities for economic, social and environmental development.
As a just transition can only happen by including people at all supply chain levels, we need to include suppliers and workers at multiple stages in the supply chain.
Robust scientific research, representation and inclusivity are needed….
In line with the European Commission’s objectives related to working conditions, labour and human rights, and socially inclusive development, a new multi-stakeholder research is conducted.
Fashion’s Responsible Supply Chain Hub (FReSCH) takes an interdisciplinary approach and explores how environmental sustainability can also ensure social justice in complex fashion supply chains. FReSCH is awarded by The European Commission Research Executive Agency and to be conducted at UCD College of Business, University College Dublin.
FReSCH is one of the first research projects to investigate the trade-offs, tensions and outcomes between economic, social and environmental sustainability in the transition to a low-carbon circular fashion industry. By using a novel methodology, FReSCH aims to uncover the realities of SME suppliers and their workers. The outcomes of project will provide insight into the economic and environmental demands placed on suppliers and how these impact working conditions and human rights practices. This is the action we should be taking to catalyse the rise of more responsible supply chains because nothing is more radical and fresher than the truth that lies beneath the surface.
Funded by the European Commission
Developed by Prof. Donna Marshall & Dr. Hakan Karaosman
Hosted by UCD College of Business, University College Dublin
Artwork by WRAD