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There is a bubbling revolution rising in the fashion industry. It is demanding that supply chains become leaner and greener. Transparency can no longer just be a trend but needs to be a necessary change that is now being driven by labor organizations, human rights groups and even the workers themselves. 

The great news is that we are beginning to see more companies starting to understand why they need to adopt greener work habits, especially in 3 key areas: returns and reverse logistics, stock inventory management, and talent management. Ben Balfour, Commercial Director at international logistics company Advanced Supply Chain Group, believes that fashion businesses can achieve this by taking an ‘eco-first’ approach. “Lean and green supply chains create competitive advantage, which is why they’ll be a growing trend in 2020 and beyond,” he stated in an article he wrote for CPO strategy.

Accelerating Adoption With The “Transparency Pledge”

It is no secret that brand transparency builds consumer trust, so it was great to learn that in 2016, nine different groups that included human rights and labor rights organizations, got together to urge own-brand label fashion businesses to align their supply chain disclosure practices with the “Transparency Pledge”. Developed to advance industry good practice, the Transparency Pledge is a request that the coalition made to companies to publish on their websites. They asked businesses to share a list of the names, addresses, and other details of the factories involved in constructing, decorating, and adding finishing touches to their goods. The coalition approached online fast-fashion company ASOS in 2016 and Amazon and Zalando in 2018. 

According to the figures published in 2019 by Fashion Transparency Index (FTI), a percentage of brands publicly disclosing has more than tripled from 12.5%. If we were to talk numbers, FTI remarked that 35% of the 200 brands surveyed had published their tier-1 factory lists. Although not accelerating at humongous speed, the numbers of companies sharing this information are growing. They will most likely continue to do so as more and more brands build consumer trust through transparency; we can hope that they are working towards not only publishing the details of their tier-1 supplier factories.

As change continues to happen, thanks to collaborations like the coalition I mentioned previously, we are also seeing transformation being driven by organizations like the World Economic Forum (WEF). Propelled by the proven theory that there is power in partnership, WEF launched a project in 2019 that focuses on using Blockchain Technology to bring transparency to a ‘fragmented supply chain industry’. “As blockchain technology is so new, supply chain decision-makers need clear guidelines, tools, and frameworks to help them maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of this technology,” said Nadia Hewett, project lead of blockchain and distributed ledger technology at WEF to online rag Coin Journal. 

Innovating and Moving Towards Responsible Business Conduct

The acceleration of supply chain transparency in the fashion industry has led to an increased awareness of sustainability and innovation. This has caused a shift in supply chain strategy. Researching this further, advisory company Gartner believes that businesses are being pushed to adopt new technologies designed to help them accelerate the transformation of their supply chain. 

Another driving force is Lean and Green, an initiative that started in 2008 by Connekt. Encouraging responsible business conduct, Lean and Green assist businesses and government bodies to move to a higher level of sustainability. Since its launch, the Dutch non-profit network for sustainable mobility has successfully helped various European countries in areas like environmental collaboration and data-sharing across national boundaries.

For those companies who are unable to get their head around how to be lean, green and digital, there are businesses like Elemica. They have the tools to help companies accomplish measurable sustainability goals. “Elemica helps clients improve and achieve their measurable sustainability goals through the automation of manual processes that reduce their usage of paper, which saves trees and other resources,” explained David Cahn, Director Global Marketing, in a press release. 

Cahn continues: “Elemica also optimizes transportation processes through carrier collaboration and automated processes that reduce mileage. These savings help companies to ‘green’ their supply chains, and we are pleased to be recognized once again for helping clients save valuable resources while creating supply chain value.” Winner of the Green Supply Chain Award 2019, Elemica is proof that with the right tools, it is possible to make sustainability a core part of your supply chain strategy.

To conclude, when it comes to moving towards a more sustainable future, it is becoming more imperative that fashion businesses adopt ‘good industry practices’, which includes integrating supply chain transparency requirements into their business. It is a responsible move that I believe will help companies move past only publishing details of their tier-1 and shift in the direction of becoming leaner and therefore, greener. So as we head towards a more certain future, I wonder whether we should applaud companies investing in programs that reduce their carbon footprints? Well, if I was to look at the bigger picture, I think that to make long term impact companies first need to understand what their carbon footprint is to shrink it, something that environmental scientist Linda Greer has been vocal about. 

In an interview with Fashionista in 2019, Greer said:  “There’s been a realization that if you’re serious about your environmental impact, then you need to look at your supply chain. Three or four years ago, brands would have said, ‘But my supply chain is so far away, and how could I know?’ It was a bunch of sorry excuses. But nowadays the world has become very transparent.” So I guess it is easier for the industry to applaud these pledges, but I think that the effective change that will deserve a standing ovation will be when carbon-neutral becomes less of a buzzword and more of reality capable of ceasing the exploitation of both people and planet.

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Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde

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Category(s): Blog