With Covid-19 continuing to ravage large swaths of Asia, throwing the region’s garment supply chains into turmoil, stakeholder collaboration and communication have become more vital than ever.
The newly launched Asia Garment Hub seeks to do precisely that. By gathering expertise, insight and resources from across the sector, the digital platform aims to “elevate best practices, foster partnerships, facilitate learning and exchange and inspire action” to tackle the industry’s biggest issues, including gender inequality, purchasing practices and climate change.
The brainchild of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains Asia project and German developmental agency GIZ’s FABRIC initiative, the Asia Garment Hub is a first-of-its-kind “one-stop shop” that includes a resource library, country data and insights, an interactive industry map and access to training sessions, events and online discussions.
“We realized in both our projects that the industry in Asia has lots of experiences and good practice examples, and there are many stakeholders who have knowledge on and existing solutions to sustainability challenges,” Alexandra Behns, GIZ FABRIC’s coordinator for regional cooperation, said at an online event Wednesday. “But these solutions are not always easy to find, sometimes simply for language barriers.”
Fixing a ‘messy’ sustainability landscape
Two years in the making, the website, located at www.asiagarmenthub.net, wants to help manufacturers, brands, trade unions, employer organizations, development partners, journalists, civil society, policymakers and interested individuals alike navigate this “highly crowded and even messy sustainability landscape,” Behns said.
Asia has quickly become a linchpin for the garment sector. In 2019, the industry employed roughly 65 million workers in Asia and the Pacific, or some 75 percent of all garment workers worldwide, according to the ILO. More than half of them are women. Garment production alone employs 5.2 percent of all working women in the region.
It’s the project’s hope that bringing together people and knowledge in this fashion will serve as a catalyst for improved industry cooperation that drives practical action for overcoming persistent industry roadblocks.
The Asia Garment Hub provides several entry points, Behns noted. A garment producer that is looking to reduce its energy emissions, for instance, can plug into the website’s industry calendar and filter for training sessions or events that are available in its country or preferred language. Alternatively, it can browse the platform’s resource library to look up relevant training materials. If the producer decides it needs more support, the “who’s who” function can connect it with the right experts.
Catering to non-English speakers is a key component of the platform.
“What’s really unique about the hub, we think, is that you can use all of its features in 10 languages, including English, but also key Asian languages, like Bangla or Chinese or Vietnamese, using our inbuilt translation tool,” said David Williams, manager of the ILO’s Decent Work in Garment Supply Chains in Asia project. “Of course the tool itself isn’t speaking fluently just yet. We’re helping to improve it, and it’s learning as we develop, but we think it’s really an important start in breaking down language barriers and broadening access to knowledge across the supply chain.”
The Asia Garment Hub is free to use. Anyone can also sign up with a personal or organizational email to begin contributing to its knowledge base.
“A lot of the features that we offer will be especially successful the more members join [and] you add your events, your resources and your profiles,” Behns said. “We hope to build a thriving online community that contributes to the overall advancement of the sector greater industry solidarity, stronger collaboration and more collective action on common industry challenges.”
‘Code red’ for the planet
With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, which sounded a “code red” for the planet, having a 24/7 platform where people can access solutions at a faster rate than “if we had to bring people together” will be a “key changer” for the industry, said Tracy Nilsson, senior director of global environment at Adidas.
The platform provides a “collaborative space where you know you’re not alone [and] you can reach out to manufacturers in the same country or others to say, ‘Hey this is an issue. Have you also encountered it? How have you solved it? Do you have somebody I can be in touch with?’” she said.
Nilsson said that Adidas will promote the Asia Garment Hub not only to its supply-chain partners but also internally. “It shouldn’t only be [used] to upskill our supply partners, but also within our larger organization,” she added. “Everybody touches sustainability at one point.”
If the pandemic has taught the industry one thing, it’s that the old ways of doing things are due for a “renewal,” said Miran Ali, vice president of the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Association and spokesperson for the GIZ-funded Platform on Sustainable Textiles of the Asian Region, or STAR network, which pools the resources of several sourcing countries to lobby for fairer purchasing practices.
“We are now in a position where we have to do things more collaboratively,” he said. “We need a platform where not just a closed group of people, but rather the wider buying community, can access the same resources that we have put in work over the last year.”
One example is the fact that Bangladesh boasts the world’s largest number of LEED-certified garment factories.
“The sustainability goal achievements that Bangladesh has made are ones that are available to a select group of people within the STAR network who have visited Dhaka, who have visited our factories, but it’s not available to the wider community,” Ali said, adding that the platform needs to be populated with data “as fast as possible” to make it effective.
“There is no loss of business competitiveness by sharing good practices [and] by raising the bar,” he added. “We need to raise the common bar of producing apparel in all these countries, so that this fallacy of a race to the bottom is something that we can finally put to rest.”