Cinematic shot inside a clothes store - Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

A new report, into fair purchasing practices says more needs to be done to address power imbalances in garment value chains.

15 May 2023

2 min read

A new report, published on the eve of World Fair Trade Day (13th May 2023) into fair purchasing practices says more needs to be done to address power imbalances in garment value chains.

The study, published by the Fair Trade Advocacy Office in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, examines the fair and responsible purchasing practices put in place by some European fashion SMEs (small to medium sized enterprises), and the barriers to remaining competitive in the current fast fashion industry.  

It is based on research work, including interviews, surveys and comparative desk analysis conducted by researchers from the University of Portsmouth. The result is a review of unfair trading practices (UTPs) in textile supply chains. 

It also includes a case study analysis of companies that are implementing fair and responsible purchasing practices across a range of areas including: lead times, payment details, prices, discounts, technical specifications, volumes and stock management. 

Despite significant market challenges, especially the fierce competition by big conventional fast fashion brands, many sustainable SMEs (brands and suppliers) are innovating with purchasing practices that begin to shift power dynamics within fashion value chains.

Researchers say that if supported, these companies have the potential to be industry front-runners and demonstrate fair purchasing practices that can be replicated and scaled across the whole garment sector. 

Dr Matthew Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Business Ethics at the University of Portsmouth, says: “Our data points to the need, once again, to rethink the conceptual framing but also practical application of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and its connection to fair purchasing in order to move towards more sustainable and ethical garment value chains.”  

The report recommends concrete proposals and stricter measures to address power imbalances in garment value chains: 

  • Public policy support to help level the playing field for SMEs and social enterprises. Big brands need to be held accountable for unfair purchasing practices in order to allow others to compete. Researchers point to the need to develop a regulatory approach to UTPs in textile at European level, for instance with a EU Directive
  • Business associations and support for SMEs, as these have a crucial role in building alliances and coalitions that can connect positive dimensions, and shifting away from the current norm that associations representing the garment and apparel sector are frequently dominated by the interests of big businesses
  • Supply chain transparency, including with the creation of publicly available factory lists accessible also to workers and unions for wider communication and action. 
  • Worker-driven social responsibility instead of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): human rights protection in corporate supply chains must be worker-driven, enforcement-focused, and based on legally binding commitments that assign responsibility for improving working conditions to the global corporations at the top of the supply chain. 

A full copy of the report can be viewed here.

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