The textile and garment sector make an essential contribution to the livelihoods of millions of people in South and South-East Asia. In Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan the sector collectively employs 40% of all people working in industrial production, and the number of workers is growing. Beside these three countries, Myanmar is becoming more important as a producing country, mainly for Chinese investors. The textile and garment sector in all four countries accounts for over 60% of total ex-ports with annual growth rates of up to 25%. The sector’s great economic success is only partially reflected in the improvement of the working and living conditions of its employees. China plays an important role in the global textile trade as a major and technologically advanced producer of textiles and garments and through its foreign direct investment in the textile and garment sector of other Asian countries.
Objective and intended impact
The project “Promoting Sustainability Standards in the Textile and Garment Industry in Asia” (FABRIC) supports the Asian textile industry in its transformation towards fair production for people and the environment. It identifies the common interests of key actors – in the factories, ministries, civil society and international brand manufacturers – and brings them together with the aim of developing a shared vision of sustainability and promoting greater cooperation. Such an approach can pave the way for qualitative growth alongside price competition.
FABRIC has five main areas of work: (1) Regional dialogue and knowledge sharing, (2) Cooperation with the private sector, (3) Social and labour standards, (4) Gender equality and (5) Environment.
The project creates a pool of knowledge from successful sustainability initiatives in individual countries and disseminates that expertise across the wider region. In cooperation with global initiatives such as the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (PST), it works with industry stakeholders towards adopting a joint position on sustainable production criteria. To strengthen regional exchange, FABRIC has initiated the conference series called “Asian Dialogues on Sustainable Production in the Textile and Garment Sector”, providing a platform to discuss opportunities and challenges on the way towards sustainability, to share experiences and to learn from innovative initiatives tackling sustainability issues in the different producing countries.
The project operates in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vietnam and works with China, where FABRIC is implemented under the umbrella of the Sino-German Center for Sustainable Development (CSD).
Overall term 2015 to 2023
Cooperation with China
The collaboration with China plays a key role in the project. Over the past decades, global as well as local Chinese textiles industry players have been working together on the industry’s social, environmental and economic impacts in China. The project seeks to support sustainability in third countries in collaboration with Chinese stakeholders and to involve them in regional knowledge-sharing.
Between 2016 and 2018, a number of achievements were made in collaboration with Chinese partners, especially the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC). Based on surveys in Chinese owned factories in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam, pilot trainings were conducted in Myanmar and Cambodia on topics including trade unions, local labour law, gender equality and women empowerment as well as cross-cultural management. Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) have been signed between CNTAC and the producing associations in Myanmar (MGMA) and Cambodia (GMAC) to jointly promote the implementation of sustainability standards, information exchange and access to expertise from China as well as transfer of knowledge and technology. Ties have also been established with the local Chinese Chambers. CNTAC also drafted a “Guidance on Responsible Overseas Investment for the Chinese Textile and Garment Industry” and held several consultations on the draft with stakeholders including researchers from Jiaotong University Shanghai, representatives from government, civil society and private sector in Myanmar and representatives from the headquarters of Chinese companies investing abroad.
Since April 2019, the focus of FABRIC has been expanded. The project now focuses on sustainability in all dimension, which goes beyond the previous focus on social and labour standards and also includes environmental and economic sustainability. In this context, the specific focus of FABRIC China has been and will be to involve Chinese counterparts in regional knowledge sharing (e.g. on thematic conferences such as the “Renewable Energy Tech Fair,” which FABRIC organized together with H&M, SMART Myanmar and MGMA in Myanmar in April, including active participation from CNTAC) and the meetings of the “STAR Network”, the first inter-Asian network of producer associations, that was initiated by FABRIC. In November 2019, the members of the STAR network met in Dhaka Bangladesh and jointly attended an Asian Dialogues Seminar on Sustainability Reporting as well as discussed joint future activities. The next meeting of the network is planned to be held in Cambodia.
In April 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic ands its impact on the textile and garment industry in Asia, the members of the STAR network issued a joint statement to position themselves together with a joint call to global brands and retailers to consider the potential impacts on workers and small business enterprises in their supply chains when making purchasing decisions. It can be found on the STAR website.
In order to continue to foster regional dialogue and regional knowledge exchange, FABRIC started the Asian Dialogues Webinar series to foster the exchange of industry stakeholders on different topics around the crises, such as the impact on producing countries, the workers in the industry as well as social implications.
FABRIC also works together with CNTAC and United Nations Industrial and Development Organization (UNIDO) in the implementation of a joint triangular cooperation project together between China, Germany, and Ethiopia entitled “Sustainable Textile Investment and Operation in Ethiopia”.