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Innovation Drivers in the Garment Sector in Asia – Webinar on 24 November, 2020

The ILO held a webinar to highlight the early stages of research that two PhD students have been working on related to innovation drivers for environmental sustainability in the garment sector under the Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains Asia project.

This webinar was part of the Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains Asia project , a three year project that aims to bring together knowledge and insight from across the garment sector in Asia, and enhance regional action and industry coordination to drive decent work and sustainability goals. With a core focus on four key areas - social dialogue, gender equality, productivity and environmental sustainability - the project will shine a light on the approaches that drive effective change. The project is implemented by ILO with financial support from the Government of Sweden (Sida).

Outcome 4 of the project focuses on enhancing environmental sustainability by strengthening (a) policy and regulatory guidance, and (b) tools and knowledge to support eco-innovation and the Just Transition.

Enhancing environmental sustainability can be a significant driver of innovation and the ILO has joined efforts with the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF), University of Technology Sydney to define and highlight key environmental and innovation drivers for a Just Transition of the garment sector in Asia.

While industry-university collaboration at this high level of research application is not new, it is still under-utilized by industry, policy and international organizations. The industry-university partnership between Sida-ILO-UTS in this regard is a process innovation itself, and one that can deliver strong foundations to new concepts such as the Just Transition in the garment industry.

In answering the challenge for system-level change, we cannot rely on incremental improvement to address what is already happening – we will need to access radical innovation across the global supply chain and the complex mix of institutions and practices that operate in the supply chain. Into this environment is where the PhD program can contribute new thinking and insights to help us address these challenges.

The ISF PhD program uses a transdisciplinary approach that cuts across disciplines, integrating and synthesizing content, theory and methodology from any discipline area which will shed light on specific real-world complex questions and challenges. In practice this means a holistic view that looks not just to technological solutions, but also the political, socio-cultural, organisational and individual factors that contribute to real change.

The PhD students’ research underscores the importance of industry-science collaboration to contribute rigorous research standards and methods and to build an evidence base of what works, with a goal towards implementation.

Research Presentation: Ms Katarina Veem, PhD Candidate – Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney.

Ms Veem’s research will examine how multi-stakeholder platforms in the garment sector can contribute concretely towards eco innovation throughout the sector.

There is a need to maintain a proper and respectful relationship between humanity and nature. The COVID19 pandemic recovery plans could create a window for a better normal to emerge.

Historically speaking, the most polluted place in Sweden is where the textile industry formerly existed. Climate change is now disrupting sediments and pollutants that were formally buried in Sweden, releasing harmful materials back into the environment. Remediating these pollutants has significant financial costs and governments cannot afford the cost of pollution that is being created by the garment sector. Workers, governments and employers need to work together to develop solutions.

Successful transformation requires: Initiation, Mapping of key issues and actors, Dialogue, Realization, and Follow-up.

There are many key lessons learned from democratic consultations have taken place in Sweden that could be applied to garment industry in Asia.

Furthermore, while sustainability directors would often like to do more, corporate structures and budgets for sustainability do not allow for these types of interventions. Brands are not often willing to pay, but they are willing to engage in dialogue around these challenges. In these conversations the dialogue is generally positive, however, when considering financial costs and revenue, it becomes more difficult. Governments need to support and invest in these areas because dialogue alone cannot do the job. Another key challenge for the garment sector in Asia is the large size of the population.

Research Presentation: Ms Karina Kallio, PhD Candidate – Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney.

Ms Kallio’s research will focus on the topic of weaving narratives of transformation from the fashion and textile industry to regenerative futures. She will explore how fashion and textile enterprises and supply chains are cultivating regenerative cultures.

The garment sector is the 3rd largest industry in the world, and it has huge environmental and social effects.

The Three Horizons Framework , Appreciative Inquiry and Living Systems Theory approaches can be utilized to bring in a holistic, organismic and ecological worldview and to bring a new perspective on thinking and values. There is also a need to consider cultural, social, material and experiential capital. Personal spheres of transformation are important because they can help explain the mindsets behind decision makers.

There are already a few brands working towards regenerative fashion models in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Though ‘greening’ focuses on minimizing ecological footprints, which is important, it does not redesign the broken system. The regenerative fashion model address that, though it cannot be achieved at the current level of global production and consumption.

Closing Questions: Mr David Williams, Project Manager – ILO

In Ms Kallio’s work regarding regenerative cultures, more could be explored regarding the implications in a commercial context. For instance, can elements of regenerative cultures be overlaid over existing models in order to replace them over the long term? Where do the incentives and the power lie?

The current sustainability narrative is crowded (especially by brands), but how can we weave the regenerative narrative into a cohesive manifesto for the industry? Factories are rule-takers – if the rules change they will take them, however, oftentimes in today’s sustainability context we are looking at them to drive the change. Furthermore, while there are some incentives to change rules at the brand level, overall it is not sufficient.

In Ms Veem’s multi-stakeholders focus, additional emphasis could be given to building dialogue at the enterprise level, which is essential to facilitate industry-wide buy-in. MSIs have an important presence at the industry level in Asia, therefore they will be key to driving change.

Ms Katarina Veem and Ms Karina Kallio will hold another webinar to share their research findings next year.

The recording of the session can be accessed here and the presentation from the session here.


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