Achieving sustainability in the ready-made garment and fashion sector

  • Date

    Fri 8 Dec 23

An image of lots of different coloured rolls of material

A new research project is set to make a real difference to the garment sector, for factories and workers, in Leicester and Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A team of researchers – from the University of Essex, University of Derby, Manchester Metropolitan University and Universal College Bangladesh – plan to encourage positive long-term changes within the industry.

The three-year project will aim to achieve economic and social sustainability in the ready-made garment and fashion sector and improve autonomy in the workplace.

Supported by over half a million pounds of funding (£645,000) from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the interdisciplinary team will seek to find ways to support garment sector employees, suppliers and workers in order to “foster conditions for autonomy and economic justice in their workplace”.

The project, called Transforming Responsive and Relational Autonomy in the Garment Sector of the UK and Bangladesh (THRREADS), is being led by Dr Shoba Arun and is based in the Centre for Work, Organisation and Society (CWOS), part of Essex Business School (EBS).

Dr Arun, from the Organisation Studies and Human Resource Management Group, will be working with colleagues Professor Thankom Arun, Dr Shaila Ahmed and Dr Shahidul Islam from the Accounting Group at EBS.

The research will allow for an inter-disciplinary approach to sustainable business through both its aims and methods.

The state of the garment industry is often reported in news headlines. In some cases, conditions have improved, and attention has been made to the ground-breaking interventions such as The Bangladesh Accord and The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, however, the research team stress that this is not enough.

In many cases, working conditions and rates of pay are still not adequate, while suppliers are faced with strict turnover periods. Recently, it was reported that negotiations over a minimum wage for garment workers sparked demonstrations on the streets in Bangladesh.

Workers receive the legal monthly minimum wage, which is one of the lowest in the world, and has remained at the equivalent of £58 since 2018. Poor working conditions and low wages in the Leicester garment sector have also been highlighted.

Dr Arun said: “We have recently heard how – despite multifarious pressures and agreements to ensure sustainable and responsive workplaces – the garment and fashion industry, characterised by global supply chains, are often marred by reports of exploitative practices, and simultaneously challenged by the highly changed environment in a post-COVID, post-Brexit context.

“We will work with garment and fashion industry owners and workers to ensure economic and social sustainability in the wake of post-pandemic challenges.”

The research team will work in partnership with community organisations who have been set up to combat poor working conditions, including The Fashion-workers Advice Bureau Leicester (FAB-L), the Safety and Rights Society (SRS), and the Green Bangla Garments Workers Federations (GBGWF) in Bangladesh.

“This research will help shape policy and actions for economic and social sustainability of the industry,” said Dr Arun. “Such research and practical outcomes will boost confidence in a global industry that has been affected by stories of exploitation, environmental and economic challenges.”

One of the co-investigators, Professor Samsul Alam from the University of Derby, added: “The garment sector in Leicester has hit the newspapers with negative headlines since COVID, causing a further detrimental impact on the sector.

“Our research will adopt multi-stakeholder based approaches to offer solutions for economic and social sustainability in the industry and revive the tarnished goodwill of Leicester as a brand.”