Textile firms 'not collecting enough supply chain data'

Over a third of firms in the fashion industry lack data on worker rights and safety in the supply chain, according to a survey.

A report, by cotton sustainability organisation US Cotton Trust Protocol, said 38% of fashion, textile and retail businesses in Europe and the US didn’t collect data on worker rights and workplace health and safety.

The survey found 41% tracked data on the amount of water and energy being used to produce raw materials sourced, while 45% collected data on greenhouse gas emissions from the production, manufacturing and distribution of products.

The report said while “brands understand that data can help them to measure progress towards sustainability targets, most do not collect a wide variety of data”. 

It said: “Many brands are also calling for more standardised data collection techniques. The lack of standardised data means that many brands do not have a clear picture of their sustainability performance in different areas (e.g. the amount of water and energy used to produce their raw materials) or how it compares with others in the industry.”

The survey involved 150 executives in the fashion, retail and textile industry in the US and EU in July 2020, as well as interviews with supply chain leaders.

Over half of respondents (53%) said efforts were being made to gather sustainability performance data when asked which measures their organisation was implementing to be more environmentally sustainable, while 58% referred to a sustainability strategy with targets and 51% mentioned creating a sustainability team.

The report said: “The lack of access to high-quality and comparable data is a critical obstacle in the drive to become more sustainable. Without complete visibility over every stage in a supply chain – many of which cross continents, cultures and codes of ethics – it is impossible to measure the sustainability of a garment.”

An executive VF Corporation, parent company of brands such as Vans and Timberland, said: “We need standard metrics across the industry because right now there are various approaches and methodologies.

“We all want to reduce climate impact, we all want to use water more efficiently. No one is going to argue about that. But when it comes down to implementing and measuring these things, there are 500 ways to do each of them. We should agree on one or a handful at most.” 

Kathleen Talbot, chief sustainability officer at sustainable fashion retailer Reformation, said: “There are real gaps in primary data, and a lot of the reporting process is manual and burdensome for both brands and supply chain partners. It will take more widespread adoption of these standard reporting requirements so all tiers in the supply chain can be more easily mapped and included in impact reporting.”

Kimberly Smith, chief supply chain officer at ethical clothing firm Everlane, said: “You need to work with your suppliers. Not on the basis of a pass or a fail if they don’t implement a particular measure. If you put too much pressure on it becomes easy for them to start lying and falsifying records. 

“You need to tell them that you are on a journey together; that you are there to support them if they have issues. Many are very nervous to provide information as they don’t know what the consequences will be.”

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