An Ekobai.com Profile – the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (April 2012)
Updates and Sector News
The global apparel, footware and fashion sectors are among the largest in the world, supporting millions of marketing and retail jobs in developed markets as well as equal if not more manufacturing jobs in low cost regions like China, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. The fact that leading global brands outsource most manufacturing to emerging market countries has made companies like Nike, the Gap, Levis a frequent target of fair labor and environmental action groups resulting in significant brand reputational damage in many cases – see an Ekobai summary from 2011. Pressure has mostly focused on labor issues and has resulted in the industry collaborating with non profit groups to formulate voluntary standards like SA 8000 and the Fair Labor Association’s standard in an attempt to drive better labor standards through the supply chain.
The textile life cycle is a significant source of environmental pollution in regions where enforcement may be lax and hence attracts a certain amount of pressure from groups such as Greenpeace, which recently published a report on water pollution within the textiles sector in China and announced its Detox Initiative, to which Nike, Addidas, H&M and other brands have announced their support. This environmental and chemical pressure in the last two decades has led to widespread uptake of voluntary environmental standards aimed at displaying textile suppliers to the leading brands maintain a set of practices with regards to chemical and water use and emissions. Leading standards include the Oeko Tex < http://www.oeko-tex.com/OekoTex100_PUBLIC/index_portal.asp?cls=02 > and the more recent Better Cotton Initiative.
Perhaps the most inclusive and leading industry coalition formed to address labor and environmental issues in a united way is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a concept born in 2009 when outdoor maker Patagonia and Walmart teamed up to create a sustainability assessment tool for their supply chain, and effort which has now expanded to include over 40 of the industry’s leading brands. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s first major project is the development of a common, industry-wide tool for measuring the environmental and social performance of apparel products and the supply chains that produce them.” The “V1 Apparel Index” was released for public review in early 2012 and in an attempt to gain wider support the group now includes the US Environmental Protection Agency and several US based non profit groups. At present the group’s membership is heavily biased towards US based organizations but the Coalition intends to open its membership more widely in the very near future. The group states “The purpose of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is to create one common sustainability index for the apparel and footwear industry. The Apparel Index as it stands today has been developed by combining the best elements of both the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco Index and Nike’s Environmental Apparel Design Tool.“
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