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Towards a more sustainable clothing industry: 30th UN/CEFACT Forum to explore enhancing traceability

Clothing is one of the largest industries in the world economy, generating annual revenues of around US$ 3 trillion, producing 80 billion garments, and employing over 60 million people of which three quarters are women. The industry is a global one, with its supply chains spreading across all countries, driven mostly by big retailers and traders that determine where to produce, what to produce, and at which prices to sell. Consumers as well as many traders are hardly aware of the origin of the materials, the production practices, and the working conditions of the factories of what they are wearing or trading.

Following up on The Emperor's New Clothes'  brainstorming session at the 2017 European Development Days (EDD), UN/CEFACT (United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business) will dive into these topics at a conference on “Ethical and informed choices for sustainable clothing – Tracking and tracing textile supply chains”, to be held on 3 October 2017 in Rome (Italy).

The negative social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry have been well documented over the past few decades, demonstrating that these impacts mostly occur within the upstream portion of the supply chain. The Pulse Report (2017) published by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group, shows that big fashion brands have in fact started to embrace sustainability due to media campaigns led by activists and civil society organizations. However, SMEs who represent the vast majority of suppliers, and 25% of the market share, have not, and so this remains a blind spot.

The lack of complete and transparent information about where and by whom materials are sourced, transformed and assembled, the lack of transparency as to the effects on the environment and human health of practices and processes, along with the lack of transparency on working conditions across the supply chain are key gaps. Improving traceability has therefore become a priority for the industry, in order to increase its ability to manage its supply chains both more efficiently and sustainably. Successful examples in the agri-food sector and the work of UN/CEFACT on traceability for sustainable trade of agri-food products, have confirmed the potential benefits associated with more transparent and traceable supply chains, and provide useful experiences and tools which the clothing industry could draw upon.

The conference will discuss new business models, the latest traceability solutions including the use of blockchain technologies to track and trace supply chains, and opportunities for multi-stakeholder collaboration to facilitate transparency in textile supply chains.

Specific recommendations for an international framework initiative on transparency and traceability for sustainability patterns in the clothing sector, in support of Sustainable Development Goal 12 on responsible production and consumption, will also be discussed. The conference will be held during the 30th UN/CEFACT Forum, to be held on 2- 4 October 2017. The Conference is jointly organized with the Italian Ministry of Economic Development and Cittadellarte Fashion B.E.S.T.

A UNECE background research paper on Traceability for Sustainable Clothing will inform the discussions.

For more information on this conference and the 30th UN/CEFACT Forum, please visit: or email [email protected]

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