On the margins of the G7 2019, 32 corporates from the fashion and clothing industry announced their commitment to limit the sector’s impact on climate, oceans and biodiversity. A commitment formalized in the aptly named Fashion Pact, which François-Henri Pinault, CEO of the Kering Group, presented to the G7 leaders.
Traceability and transparency in the foreground
This pact includes 4 joint initiatives, the first being “Transparency & Accountability: building the systems for certification, verification, and traceability of materials and impacts through supply chains”.
No one can doubt that Kering, H&M or Nike, to name but a few, already have “traditional” traceability systems based on standards, audit specifications or even sophisticated labels. What is it then?
What they recognize through this initiative is that this “traditional” traceability, which can be described as theoretical and based on sampling, is now insufficient. It no longer ensures transparency and accountability among all actors and subcontractors in modern and highly fragmented supply chains.
This concerns far more actors than these 32 signatories, and far more industries than fashion and clothing. However, not everyone has the lucidity or courage to expose this problem, even though the demand for “transparency” is growing among consumers, to the point of starting to change purchasing practices. The clear trend is that the less transparency there is, the greater the opacity on the origin and composition are, the more volatile the purchasing behavior.
Textile: an industry with little known impacts
In terms of ecological impact resulting from materials sourcing and/or product composition, the textile industry plays a significant role. It is the second most polluting industry in the world: we are talking about 3 to 10% of CO2 emissions. In fact, we know little about the industry that dresses us. It is not well known that 63% of the components are plastics, or that 73% of the manufactured clothing is eventually incinerated, with only 2% recycled by the industry itself (Source Gayaskin).
In 2013, for example, China was the world’s leading producer of wool with 22% of the market, followed by Australia with nearly 17% and other producers accounting for less than 8% of the market — the vast majority being under 3%. In 2018, 70% to 80% of Australian wool was exported to China. Thus, taking into account growth in production between 2013 and 2018, it is easy to think that 35% to 50% of the world’s wool comes from or transits through China (source Wikipedia and Les Echos). When did you last see “Chinese wool” on socks, sweaters, suits or carpets tags?
The first natural textile fiber in volume is cotton, which accounts for more than half of the natural textile fibers on the market. In 2014, the world’s two largest producers were China and India, each accounting for about 25% of the market. In 10 years, China has roughly multiplied its production by 2.5 and India by 4 (source Wikipedia).
Cotton cultivation poses well-known problems, some of which were described more than 10 years ago by Erik Orsenna: soil depletion due to overproduction, long-term arsenic pollution linked to certain haulm destruction practices, persisting child labor in several countries. It is nice to put on a “save the planet” t-shirt, but making sure you are not indirectly financing child labor or serious pollution would be more coherent.
Fashion Pact: towards the promise of true actions?
Our consumption is an accurate reflection of the world we finance for our children. Each purchase is a choice, a vote for tomorrow. Everyone has the right to choose what they want, to be interested in the impact of their choices, or not. But the reality is that today, this choice is not educated and baseless due to lack of transparency. And transparency is made difficult by the fact that the brands themselves do not have the information due to a lack of precise traceability of their own sourcing and practices: only the implementation of end-to-end and real-time traceability will change the situation.
The Fashion Pact initiative is wonderful in the sense that it promises concrete actions. It is the opposite of conventional and smooth marketing messages that are being made obsolete by the loss of trust and demand for transparency.
It is in the interest of corporations and brands to be proud and transparent about their sustainability commitments. Some will never embrace transparency simply because they cannot. Choosing will then become easy for consumers.
A post by Matthieu HUG, cofounder & CEO at Tilkal.