The textile and garment supply chain is estimated to be responsible for up to eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and twenty percent of waste-water discharge. Intense use of water resources and chemicals, insufficient treatment of waste-water, radiant heat, and textile waste and microfibre shedding are affecting not only the environment but also the sector’s workers.
International and local laws set to help meet the goals of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) have sensitized constituents in the garment industry to the importance of environmental sustainability. Garment sector businesses are also proactively adopting standards promoted by a growing number of investors, brands and retailers across the supply chain.
Climate change and extreme climate phenomena are a global threat that is developing particularly rapidly in the countries where Better Work operates. For example, rising sea levels pose serious dangers across nations in South and South-East Asia, like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Viet Nam.
In order to tackle pressing environmental challenges, governments and businesses need to transition towards greener, resilient and climate neutral economies. In order for this transition to be just, the greening of the economy must be done in a fair and inclusive way, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.
Better Work is in a unique position to address the human impacts of the crisis, which can also severely impact productivity, generating income loss and heightened poverty risks for workers, with women workers being particularly vulnerable.
Environmental sustainability is a new focus area for Better Work’s strategy. We will work with dedicated ILO units to support national constituents to understand and manage the labour implications of a just transition to environmental sustainability and circularity. We will also provide data, evidence and advice on how to manage risks and opportunities to advance decent work and increase competitiveness.
For example, Better Work will work with other ILO units and key partners, to focus on the skills required to transition to greener production and leveraging energy and resource efficiency’s contributions to productivity. Better Work will also establish stronger social dialogue and workplace cooperation between managers and workers and their representatives to identify and mitigate the human impact of environmental issues.
Within this new operational area of activity, the promotion of workers’ well-being and factory competitiveness remain our key goals. Using enterprise and industry-wide approaches, Better Work will support partnerships and interventions to address the negative environmental impacts of the apparel industry on both employers and workers.
Better Work’s strong relationships with brands and tripartite constituents will be leveraged to raise the just transition agenda with the aim of incorporating enabling policies at the factory, sector and national levels, eventually building the necessary coalition between buyers, policy makers and workers to bring about sustainable change.
Better Work’s collaborations on environmental sustainability
Through a series of collaborations along with the ILO and other international and local partners across several countries, Better Work has built its capacity to address environmental sustainability issues.
The programme has engaged in sectoral level discussions on environmental sustainability in Viet Nam, where the topic is considered a national priority. Through its Viet Nam Environmental Compliance Programme, developed jointly with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Better Work is piloting an integrated approach to environmental advisory and training, which could be soon expanded to other country programmes.
Through the ILO’s International Labour and Environmental Standards Application in Pakistan’s SMEs project (ILES), Better Work is focusing on an overall improvement in the sustainability of production and consumption practices in Pakistan, with a particular focus on water use and management in water intensive SMEs, including in the textile and leather manufacturing sectors.
The ILO’s Sustaining Competitive and Responsible Enterprises (SCORE) training modules, which include OSH as well as clean production and are implemented in Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Viet Nam, are also particularly relevant for Better Work’s smaller partner enterprises facing challenges in areas such as productivity, energy inefficient production practices, environmental pollution, production waste, health and safety and/or human resource management.
Better Work Action Plan
There is no “one size fits all.” Mapping the risks across the sector at the national level will be pivotal to the determination of efficient, tailor-made approaches.
Better Work’s Environmental Sustainability Action Plan is responsive and designed to evolve over the lifetime of our strategy, Sustaining Impact, 2022/27. In consultation with global and national partners, we will continue to refine our action plans to ensure they support long-term, progressive change.