Bendi x Leeds white paper 1: Tier-n visibility and the just transition
By Benjamin Norsworthy
May 1, 2023
Closing the gap between social and environmental accountability in fashion
Several decades of mostly self-regulated sustainability efforts have seen the majority of fashion brands forge ahead with environmental standards and net zero ambitions. Social sustainability, having by and large remained on a compliance basis, has not received the same fanfare. How can the fashion industry balance the reductions needed in greenhouse gas emissions whilst providing decent employment to millions in its supply chains?
The just transition is gaining recognition as a framing for how this discrepancy - the “transition out” of carbon-intensive jobs and the “transition in” of sustainable economic opportunities - could be resolved . Social and environmental sustainability are presented as an interconnected opportunity; decent work as a result of low carbon production . How the decarbonisation of fashion will impact the employment and livelihoods of its global workforce is an interconnection brands should already be centring in their sustainability agendas .
We know that heat stress lowers productivity and factory output. There is a growing body of evidence documenting how garments workers face increased gender based violence and harassment during times of higher temperatures . A continued separation of environmental and social sustainability is therefore a short-term outlook.
Climate change is exacerbating people’s vulnerabilities to labour exploitation . A brand cannot hope to understand how a changing climate might impact the wellbeing of people in a garment factory without full visibility of where their goods come from. Climate-related migration is already pushing people into modern slavery, and so brand human rights risk assessments need to be able to capture and assess these dependencies .
Funded by an Innovate UK Smart Grant, Bendi is working in collaboration with the Leeds University Business School. In an industry reliant on the surety provided by third-party audits, the project is giving fashion brands tier-n value chain visibility to better prioritise their social sustainability programmes.
Benjamin Norsworthy - Chief Sustainability Officer and co-founder at Bendi, fashion & sustainability expert, Ex-Burberry & Global Fashion Agenda.
Professor Chee Wong - Chair of Supply Chain Management, Leeds University Business School.
Image by Priscilla Du Preez