Garment and footwear is one of the biggest economic sectors and is one of the industries with the highest footprint in terms of social, environmental and health impacts, mainly happening in raw material production and manufacturing in developing countries. Its value chains are both global and complex, with numerous stakeholders involved, driven by big retailers and traders, however constituted by an enormous amount of small and scattered production facilities all around the world. Small brands making around half of the industry, are lacking the knowledge and resources to significantly improve their footprint. They also have little control over and transparency along their supply chains. Even when their intent is good, they lack the critical reach to effect change.

Important ingredients to mitigate sustainability risks and impacts in the sector, include:

1) Improving working conditions of employees in the raw material production and manufacturing stages, especially in the upstream segments of the value chain;

2) Improving the environmental footprint of products and production processes throughout the entire value chain, including aspects such as use, reuse and recycling, in line with a circular economy approach;

3) Moving consumers attitudes towards more intelligent and ethical consumption choices;

4) Ensuring that final consumers receive accurate and relevant information about the social, environmental and health risks and impacts of the apparel and footwear they buy.

Current patterns of production and consumption in the industry show that such risks are going to increase over the next decade, while the complexity and opacity of the value chain makes it extremely difficult to identify where they occur, and identify the necessary targeted actions to address them, and respond to growing consumers’ and civil society’s demand for attaining sustainability in the sector.

The present study investigates on how enhanced traceability and transparency of value chains can help advance the sustainability performance of the garment and footwear sector. It supports the widespread view that traceability is a “tremendously impactful tool” for advancing sustainability patterns, but there is still much to do before it becomes an integral part of sustainable value chain management and is used widely by companies. At present, only a very small percentage of commodities and production stages are traceable on sustainability attributes.

Source: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Download the full UNECE study paper here