Sector Overview: Apparel
'Fast fashion’ comes and goes with the seasons. But what pressures does this create for apparel workers and producers in the South?
Apparel exports constitute 43.5% of the global textiles trade and generate around US $400 billion per annum. Apparel manufacturers are key employers in developing countries, particularly for women and for vulnerable groups including migrants. However, what can be done to address aggressive sourcing practices which often result in low-pay and tight control over production processes?
Key research focus areas:
- Global financial crisis. Considering the effect of the financial crisis on the apparel sector. Have countries with full cotton-textiles value chains emerged stronger from the crisis than those specialising solely in apparel manufacturing? How have currency fluctuations impacted on global production and trade?
- Governance & labour standards. Exploring how governance initiatives such as trade policy or the ILO’s Better Work programme can help improve working conditions in apparel global production networks (GPNs). How can better labour standards be promoted through trade partnerships (e.g. the US-Cambodia Textiles Agreement)? What roles are emerging for buyers, civil society and government in supporting suppliers and workers?
- Fairer trade between suppliers and retailers. Examining how retailers can deal more responsibly with suppliers in low-income countries. What strategies are needed to address falling prices and ‘just-in-time’ buyer requirements? What role for companies, civil society and international organisations?
- Brazil, India and China (BICs). Considering the emergence of the BICs and changes in apparel GPNs. Exploring how new regional intermediaries and agents are concentrating control in poorer countries. What are the implications for labour? What strategies can support decent work in new regional production networks in Africa, Latin America, and Asia?
John Pickles & Shane Godfrey.
Useful resource documents
- Knappe, M. (2008) The textiles and clothing value chain write-ups by ITC panellists, UNCTAD World Investment Forum Session II – Global Value Chains: Opportunities and Challenges for International and Domestic Firms (Washington: ITC). Available at: (53kb)
- ILO (2005) Promoting fair globalization in textiles and clothing in a post-MFA environment, Report for Discussion at the Tripartite Meeting on Promoting Fair Globalization in Textiles and Clothing in a Post-MFA Environment. Geneva: ILO, [PDF, 472KB]
- Nordas, H. (2004) The global textile and clothing industry post the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, World Trade Organisation, Discussion Paper No 5. Washington: WTO. [PDF, 245KB]
- Knappe, M. (2002) Inter-Firm Strategic Alliances in the Textiles and Clothing Industry: Examples from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka Washington: ITC. [PDF, 157KB]