Sustainable and Organic Market Analysis & News

Textiles Sector

Overview

Environmental, social and ethical pressures on the global textiles and fashion sectors emerged in Europe in the early 1980s.  The main driver was consumer concern over the safety of the materials.  However in parallel with this trend, a minority group of ethical consumers demanded “chemical-free” and low environmental impact clothing and fashion goods.  This resulted in the European and later the US organic labelling system being extended to include criteria for clothing and textiles, such as organic cotton.   As of 2007, the sector was the fastest growing part of the global cotton industry with growth of more than 50% a year.   Consumers worldwide in the 1990s also demanded “sweatshop” free practices in the manufacturing of their apparel and shoes, leading to a number of standards such as SA 8000, WRAP and FLA in the B2B chain.

Role of standards within the market

With reference to safety standards, primarily addressing consumer concern over chemicals in textiles, the Oeko-Tex standard has become highly popular in the industry. Although unknown to consumers, looks at chemicals such as flame retardants in clothes and categorizes goods according to their likely exposure to humans (e.g. baby clothes must adhere to the strictest standards for chemicals).  Thus the issue of chemicals in clothing has become largely one of liability risk control for the industry with the consumers obviously expecting products to pose no risk to their health.

Of far greater concern to the global fashion sector is the issue of worker welfare.The issue was highlighted by pressure groups such as Global Exchange in the US targeting Levis and Nike and others. Global Exchange launched its Nike Anti Sweatshop campaign, focusing on the firms sourcing in China and Indonesia. The SA 8000 emerged as the leading industry driven voluntary standard on worker welfare issues SA 8000 supporters now include the GAP, TNT and others and SAI reports that as of 2008, almost one million workers in 1700 facilities have achieved SA 8000 certification. Other key standards relating to these sweatshop issues are WRAP and the Fair Labour Associaton’s Code of Conduct.

The Fair Trade movement has also had a significant impact on the textiles and fashion business.  The standard combines a number of ethical issues of potential concern to consumers – environmental factors, fair treatment of developing country suppliers and worker welfare.The Fairtrade label has show explosive growth  increasingly in textiles and non-food goods.

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