Recycle, reuse, organic, green building, wind energy… these are some of the well-discussed sustainable initiatives of big export houses, but they sound just like jargons for small- and medium-level companies having 100 or 150 stitching machines. What does sustainability mean to them; are they aware of the various dimensions of the concept; and last but certainly not the least, are they doing something in this regard, if not how can they take their first step in this direction. Apparel Online tried to figure out ground realities, discussing the concept with many exporters and sustainability experts. It was sad to know that apart from few big buyers/ retailers, there are several such buyers who have no concern with sustainability and for exporters – ‘Change is buyer-driven’.
Almost every exporter who is working with small buyers has a similar opinion that these buyers have not asked for or discussed the subject ‘sustainability’ ever; so neither have they ever bothered too much about it. Ironically, most of the exporters are trying to control their wastage and control their ‘running cost’; so as a term or word they may not be familiar with sustainability, but on the ground they are unknowingly active on this front, especially in the area of worker safety and ensuring basic needs, be it clean drinking water or hygienic working conditions. For saving cost, majorly in energy, use of LED is very common and there is a strong need to increase such steps, but slow market sentiments is something which is stopping them from moving forward in this direction. “There are no instructions by any of our buyers to initiate sustainable activities, but still we are keen to do it. As market conditions are not enthusiastic, so it is also difficult to invest into sustainable measures,” says Desh Deepak Sadh of Sadh Sons, Farrukhabad.
Familiar with the concept of sustainability and its benefits, Vijay Singh of Shilpayan Décor, Jaipur adds, “We wished to contribute to the environment by adopting solar system, but limitation of roof space and resources stopped us. Whenever we will expand or have some resources, we will definitely go for solar energy. Similarly, we want to sit with our labour and work out a plan to support them. But it all depends on continuous good business.” There are few areas where exporters can save more in a practical way, like by having small and different boilers for finishing or washing as most of the small factories prefer one big boiler which ultimately becomes reason of waste as it is not fully utilized in most of the cases.
A good number of exporters are supporting their workers by different means, including charity, welfare programmes and awareness drives like health camps or visit by doctors etc., but it is not on regular basis. On the other hand, there are many exporters who accepted that they have not done anything for workers, as majority of work is outsourced through job-work and they have no say on how these job-workers conduct their business.
SAVE, SPEND AND CREATE SMILES!
Most of the factories take it for granted that they are saving enough, or that more saving is not possible – be it in fabric use, making of extra pieces per order, etc. But experience of big exporters shows that there is always scope of improvement. So save as much, whatever and wherever it is possible and spend out of these on your workers. It can be initiated by even taking fewer printouts or by using paper on both sides. Small initiatives lead to big savings and bigger impact on the countries of the world.
Mid-level staff members of small companies, who have to execute whatever steps or initiatives the owners suggest or instruct, are not very familiar with the concept or benefit of sustainability. In fact, they don’t have any such platform or access to the same where they can learn or know about the concept. Loyalty of management staff and workers is a big missing link in sustainability as most of the workers are recruited through contractors and keep changing their factories. “Even those who are regular or working now for many years with the company don’t have any appointment letter or salary slip. Believe it or not, these things matter and increase worker’s loyalty towards the factory and management, which indeed motivates them for more saving, efficiencies and overall concern for factory. It’s a kind of giving ‘ownership’ to them without actually giving them anything extra,” says Tauqueer Alam, Compliance Officer, CSR Program, PVH.
Medium-level exporters also need to work on such ideas where they have some doubt or apprehensions, like whatever they do with regards to sustainability; they should involve NGOs or civil society which as of now is missing. “Our factories have committees to stop sexual harassment but it has members only from the staff or management. Involvement of an NGO or lawyer will strengthen it and be more comfortable for workers,” shared a staff member of a Faridabad-based factory on the condition of anonymity.
Some exporters have taken interesting steps to eliminate wastage, though they are small steps but show their spirit towards supporting nature. “We don’t know very much or have no deep knowledge about sustainability, but we prefer not to use any plastic material in packaging and do packaging in a way which requires less material. Similarly, we ensure not to spread particles or waste of polyester fabric in the air,” shared Devendra Kumar Baid of Welfit Exports, Kolkata.
Actionaid calls for better job alternatives for Bangladesh garment workers
The international NGO, ActionAid has appealed to the Bangladesh Government to provide better job alternatives to the workers by recognizing the limitation of the garment industry. It stresses on the importance of targeting investments towards higher value-added manufacturing industries. The NGO’s latest report ‘Diversify and Conquer’ focuses on the Bangladesh RMG industry, which employs over 3.5 million people, mostly women on low wages and poor working conditions.
According to the report, “Two existing industries in Bangladesh, engineering and electronics, have the potential to develop the country’s growth to that level; they just need the right Government support.” The NGO believes that high value industries like these can bring more income to businesses and with the help of tax policies the state can provide better access to public services such as education, health or childcare.
Apparel companies demand strong climate deal
Recently, the CEO’s of 7 apparel companies, incuding H&M, GAP, Eileen Fisher, etc. have issued a joint statement calling on Government leaders to issue a strong climate change agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Focusing on stopping the growth of greenhouse gas pollution that is causing global warming, the companies believe that climate-change mitigation and innovation are essential not only to the health and well-being of the people, who make their products but also to the future supply of materials required to create the said products.
These brands – Adidas, Eileen Fisher, GAP, H&M, Levi Strauss and VF Corp – are amongst the planet’s largest consumers of cotton, according to Ceres. VF Corp. alone buys about one per cent of the world’s cotton for its 30+ brands, which include The North Face, Timberland, Vans and Wrangler. “At VF, we support a low-carbon, energyefficient global economy and are doing our part to contribute to meaningful and measurable progress in the fight against climate change,” informs Eric Wiseman, Chairman and CEO, VF Corp.
Vaude wins ‘Sustainability Award’
A German producer of mountain sports equipment, Vaude, has been named ‘Germany’s Most Sustainable Brand 2015’, the highest honour at the prestigious German Sustainability Award in Dusseldorf. The brand has set standards for sustainable products through programs such as the Green Shape Label or its Fair Wear Foundation ‘Leader Status’. “We are delighted and proud of the award as Germany’s Most Sustainable Brand. The award is a wonderful recognition and at the same time, an incentive for us. As a strong outdoor brand, we want to continue promoting harmony between people and nature for business enterprises,” revealed Antje von Dewitz, CEO, Vaude.