The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the basis of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all member states of the United Nations in 2015. With the aim of addressing global poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, peace and justice, these goals seek to achieve prosperity for the planet and people.
The role of fashion as one of the industries with the greatest environmental and social impact worldwide is crucial to comply with the temporary border established by the UN. Out of the 17 goals(1), we are going to focus on those in which the fashion industry has the strongest connections and therefore the biggest implications.
Our goal with this article is to highlight the actions that companies in the fashion industry should adapt to achieve the sustainable development goals.
A study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics for Oxfam revealed that only 4% (2) of the price of a piece of clothing is estimated to make it back to the workers who made it. Brands and companies should align and make a vow to pay their garment workers fair wages. This could undoubtedly and drastically help global poverty levels. A living wage should be enough for workers to live in adequate housing, access education and health and be able to feed themselves and their families. Thus, ensuring that workers in the fashion industry’s supply chain are paid appropriately is one small way the industry can help end poverty.
The initiative good clothes, fair pay (3) calls on the European Commission to propose legislation requiring undertakings active in the garment and footwear sector to conduct due diligence in respect of living wages in their supply chains. All fashion companies should be advertising and inviting their employees and customers to sign this.
Gender equality is a fundamental human right that’s essential for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. Between 60 and 75 million people work directly in the fashion and textiles industry, and around 70%-80% are women (4). Many of these women are subject to exploitation, verbal and physical abuse, unsafe conditions, and low pay. However, and while the majority of people working in the fashion industry are women, the larger stakeholders and decision makers are men. Therefore, fashion companies need to ensure women that they are able to reach and sustain executive positions in fashion, like creative directors and CEOs. Other issues such as sexual harrassment in areas of the fashion industry such as modelling also need to be addressed and targeted. The big fashion conglomerates (Kering, LVMH) should sit together and sign a pact against any discriminatory practices against women in any location.
The fashion industry (apparel and footwear) accounts for 8% (5) of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, almost as much as the total carbon impact of the EU. This is of no surprise since the fashion industry uses large amounts of fossil fuels and plants to produce raw materials for garments. These fossil fuels could come from deforestation and the removal of natural grasslands for rubber and bamboo plantations, wood pulp for viscose fiber, and to make room for more farms for leather or wool production. These are all examples of how raw materials used in the fashion industry contribute to climate deterioration.
Fashion companies can thus reduce the industry’s emissions drastically by switching to renewable energy and improving energy efficiency across supply chains, especially in the areas with the highest impact: raw materials and fibre production (15% of carbon emissions), yarn preparation (28% of carbon emissions), and dyeing and finishing (36% of carbon emissions) (6).
(1) The 17 Goals: https://sdgs.un.org/goals
(2) The Guardian (2019): “Workers making clothes for fashion brands can’t afford to eat, Oxfam reports”
(4) World Bank (2017): In Bangladesh, Empowering and Employing Women in the Garments Sector
(5) Quantis (2018): Measuring fashion: insights from the Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries study
(6) UNECE (2021): Supply chain transparency could help the clothing industry significantly reduce its GHG emissions