too fast to sustain2

Throwaway fashion: too fast to sustain, too cheap to stop An enquiry into the fast fashion phenomenon and the sustainability debate Irina Donciu Royal Docks Business School VT 3045: Thesis Module – Fine Art, Fashion and Textiles 06 th of December 2011 University of East London

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Page 1: Too Fast to Sustain2

Throwaway fashion: too fast to sustain, too cheap to stopAn enquiry into the fast fashion phenomenon and the sustainability debate

Irina Donciu

Royal Docks Business SchoolVT 3045: Thesis Module – Fine Art, Fashion and Textiles06th of December 2011

University of East London

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Table of Contents


About sustainability in the contemporary business environment....................................................4Corporate Social Responsibility and “The triple bottom line”.............................................................................4

The “one size fits all” global social responsibility norm......................................................................................5

Social responsibility and fashion consumption...............................................................................6Awareness levels among consumers.....................................................................................................................6

The concept of throwaway fashion.......................................................................................................................8

Corporate social responsibility in the fashion industry – a global perspective...............................9The importance of reputation: Dior and Wal-Mart...............................................................................................9

Who is responsible?............................................................................................................................................10

Fast Fashion and its effects on social responsibility......................................................................11Fast Fashion and Supply Chain Management.....................................................................................................11

Vertical Integration and Corporate Social Responsibility...................................................................................12

The fashion retailer-supplier relationship: a vicious circle.................................................................................15

A duty of care......................................................................................................................................................17

Environmental concerns................................................................................................................18

The Stakeholder Theory and its practicality..................................................................................19

Conclusion – Organising business for social responsibility..........................................................22


Bibliography................................................................................................................................ 24

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The purpose of this thesis is to attempt to provide an examination to a present-day on-

going debate that many business owners competing within the fashion industry ought

to be concerned with. The issue of sweatshop labour and environmental sustainability

in the textile industry has become if not over-talked about, than at least generally

acknowledged, due to either frequent outbursts in the media or simply because, as

business owners, or maybe as simple customers, many of us might have come to a

crossroads where a ‘make or break’ decision had to be made in terms of positioning

ethics against the pursuit of economical profitability. This thesis will examine whether

a blend of ethical, social and profit-making values can endure an organisation’s thrive

to successfully compete on the ever-changing fashion market. Moreover, the paper

will examine the extent to which fashion retailers can efficiently respond to

customers’ demands by producing and selling “fast fashion” and be sustainable from a

social, environmental and economic point of view.

The topic is of particular interest to me on a personal basis, as for the past twenty

years, my parents have ran a garment-producing factory Romania, which has

maintained its long-term business relationships with various retailers and brands in the

Western Europe. My exposure to the operational affairs within the retailer-supplier

relationship development together with the production process, has given me useful

insight in terms of identifying possible failure points when matching corporate social

responsibility requirements to realistic endeavours. Moreover, when doing a

retrospective analysis by looking at the way in which fashion production has changed

over the past fifteen years, it can be noticed that together with a rise in turnover

generated by a larger segment of the market exerting their purchasing power, one of

the things that have raised my attention and I will attempt to develop throughout this

paper, is that with the increase in production and the speed to market with which

nowadays consumers have been accustomed, the likelihood that clothing suppliers

may develop manufacturing routines which are inconsistent with socio-ethical

accepted behaviour will, undoubtedly, increase. In addition, the question of ethics

related to the very act of speeding up the clothing production which would


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consequently result in breach of working regulations - frequently brought to the

public’s attention by the media - will be placed against the idea that fashion retailers

are not the only party to be held accountable, due to the nature of the supply chain

which must be managed in response to consumers’ demand. Customer behaviour is

therefore another issue this thesis is addressing, by placing an emphasis on how a

series of factors i.e. social media, cultural trends etc. have an invariable effect on the

amount of pressure consumers exert over fashion retailers in terms of cost, quality and

delivery, to which the social, ethical and environmental dimensions fail to be

measured in terms of performance compliance or simply fail to keep up or.

About sustainability in the contemporary business environment

Corporate Social Responsibility and “The triple bottom line”

Many of us recognise the importance of the capitalist model, which implies that

businesses are mainly driven by the making of profit and return on investment, the

constant push towards achieving greater profit margins being the sole precursor to

global capitalism (Kristensen and Zeitlin, 2005). However, social and environmental

responsibility is critically important to the success of a business, especially due to the

current economic trends that have a tendency to define the business formula as not

simply having to integrate social corporate responsibility but focus the entire business

activity around the idea that by respecting the society and the environment, the

outcomes achieved in the long term would facilitate economic sustainability (Dickson

and Eckam, 2006). The “triple bottom line” debate – “people, planet, profit” - has

become an unwritten law prevailing every business operation (Elkington, 1998) and

whilst customers are becoming more aware and informed, it would most likely

develop to be the very core function any business may have to undertake in the future.

The shift is already slowly taking place. Every global corporation is aware of the risk

of literally being wiped out, should their customers act as one and chose not to put

their money with them. We are looking at more informed and committed customers

who tend to choose accountable businesses when exerting their purchasing power.

And as a result, financial investors would follow.


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The “one size fits all” global social responsibility norm

Whilst in recent years the issue of corporate social responsibility has been supported

by various initiatives undertaken by stakeholders and had some positive outcomes in

terms of developing international non-exploitative trade methods of manufacturing

and outsourcing resulting in products labelled as being “fair-trade” or “organic”, an

inconsistency in terms of worldwide efforts to put an end to the on-going breach of

socio-ethical values can be noted. According to Dickson, Locker and Eckman, 2009,

this variation is due to the impossibility of setting an analogous moral standard to a

wide range of different “cultures, languages, political and economical systems, basic

human rights, labour rights and freedoms granted – or not granted – to citizens,

business models, rule of law, infrastructure setup, security and safety concerns,

climate and natural resources”. On the other hand, when looking at the idea of

measuring performance related to the way in which manufacturers and retailers

organise for social responsibility, it can be stated that a one-size fits all code of

conduct may be adopted internally, collaboratively and strategically.

From an economic perspective, globalisation comes in the aid of retailers as it

provides the opportunity for cheap outsourcing in terms of raw materials, labour and

facilities. Moreover, it provides global market entry opportunities, from which the

notion of a “global brand” has derived (Keller and Lane, 2003). Once businesses

decide to go global, the amount of production and commerce they are going to

conduct overseas is directly connected with the idea that they must seek to increase

their positive influence on society and surrounding communities. Whilst many

business owners might attempt justify possible limitations by looking at the burden of

allocating extensive capital together with the implementing of time consuming

projects executed by extensive human resources departments, research shows that in

fact, the completion of such costly corporate social responsibility endeavours would

generate great return on investment by repositioning and consolidating the brand

within the global market, thus enhancing its reputation.


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Social responsibility and fashion consumption

Awareness levels among consumers

Social responsibility does not refer solely to the need for companies to pursue specific

policies and make decisions that are desirable in terms of honouring ethical values and

respecting the society as a whole (Caroll, 1999), but includes the contribution of

socially responsible consumers who have a direct influence on the way in which

businesses chose to conduct their activities. Our decision making process for what

type of apparel to buy and when to dispose of it, is motivated by a series of factors

(Hill, 2006) and plays a crucial role in the way in which we exert our function as

socially responsible buyers.

Social media, together with recent academic debates over the issues of ethical

consumption have increased consumers’ interest towards issues related to production,

outsourcing strategies and the power of supply and demand. According to research,

consumers’ interest in choosing ethical businesses has significantly grown and has a

direct influence on their choice of purchase in the decision-making process (Strong,

1996). In a recent study, 1,554 American university students have been surveyed and

41 per cent of both undergraduates and graduates confirmed that they would rather

buy clothes produced by socially responsible companies, in an attempt to support the

correct implementation of corporate social responsibility (Bush, 2009). When asked to

give a definition of social responsibility, the students correctly identified “issues

surrounding the relationship between workers and small and large businesses, the

health and safety of workers, environmental sustainability, communities and

economic growth” (Dickson, Loker and Echman, 2009).

However correct from a theoretical point of view the participants might have been,

further research indicated difficulties they encountered when attempting to actually

name and distinguish ethically operating businesses on the market.

A second survey, this time carried out in 2006 in England and Germany by Joergens

revealed that participants were unable to identify a single fashion company they

believed was running by successfully implementing corporate social responsibility


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policies. Moreover, keeping in mind that, as opposed to the consumers surveyed in the

US, these participants had never researched or studied the CSR level of any fashion

brand they enjoyed purchasing, it can be stated that education plays an important role

in making people aware of the consequences of unethical practices.

The survey concluded with showing that when there was a lack of information on the

matter and when subsequent instruction was not carried out, the participants were, as a

result, not concerned with issues involving socially responsible consumption, but

were mainly influenced by the pricing and the design of the garments, actively

admitting that they would more likely be inclined to purchase items produced in an

unethical way and by an unethical company as long as they satisfied the price and

aesthetics criteria.

Nevertheless, a third survey conducted by Shaw and Tomolillo (2004) on Scottish

consumers, revealed that their attitude towards ethical consumption was similar to the

American students’. Consumers in Scotland expressed their desire to purchase fair

trade, ethically outsourced garments, showing a particular interest in environmental

related issues such as chemical usage in textiles production and the use of animal fur.

These participants also agreed on the difficulties consumers need to undergo when

deciding to make ethical purchases due to the lack of information on the way in which

companies are, in fact, successfully implementing their CSR on a global basis. Issues

such as toxic waste reduction and the need for a “formal regulatory system that

oversees the fashion industry”(Yurchisin and Johnson, 2010) together with the high

price concern for ethical merchandise were also raised.


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The concept of throwaway fashion

When looking at what triggers the consumer behaviour from a fast fashion

perspective, the sole precursor to the success of the phenomenon is the consistency in

low pricing strategies, which generate the accessibility factor of the garments. In

addition, the fast paced product life cycle has a direct influence on the purchasing

routine: nowadays customers do not perceive fast fashion as a “fashion statement

investment”, but prefer to make frequent low price purchases that imply a

compromise on quality, thus leading to wearing the garments for a maximum of two


The concept of throwaway fashion is a perception that varies among different

generations. For instance, Generation Y customers – which consist of the younger part

of the population – prefer to buy a large number of low-quality easily perishable

garments that only stay in fashion for a limited period of time. On the other hand, the

baby boomers generation, who traditionally regard fashion purchasing as a long term

investment, tend to purchase a smaller number of relatively high priced quality

garments (Crewe and Davenport 1992). Moreover, the baby boomers segment regard

fast fashion as practical “waste” due to the rapid disposal practices of the items which

may only satisfy a temporary wardrobe need (Sydney 2008). As a result, it can be

stated that fast fashion is, in fact, a consumer driven phenomenon as opposed to the

more traditional supplier driven method. Therefore, an effort into influencing

consumer-buying behaviour must be made, in an attempt to place an emphasis on the

active role consumerism plays in the way in which businesses conduct their



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Corporate social responsibility in the fashion industry – a global perspective

The importance of reputation: Dior and Wal-Mart

When referring to the apparel industry, reputation plays a crucial role in the success of

a brand: just have a look at the recent anti-Semitic scandal involving John Galliano

who, despite of being one of the most appreciated and talked about current designers,

managed to irremediably damage the image of Dior, one of the top players on the

fashion global market at the moment. Dior has immediately dismissed the designer in

order to protect their reputation. The 21st century technological revolution is allowing

easy access to communication channels and has subsequently revolutionised the

information circulation around the world. Therefore, such scandals can be

immediately made public and companies are no longer able to conceal them.

However, organisations seem to have found a way to fight back by leading extensive

PR campaigns and whilst this sort of scandals might not be kept hidden, they tend to

fade away, being replaced by clever marketing aimed to re-assure the public that

contingent measures are taken in order to avoid their emergence in the future.

For instance – and I would not pretend to evaluate and examine all the abuses that

have surfaced over the years – in 1995, 70 women of Thai origins have been found

being kept isolated and locked inside of a clothing manufacturing factory in

California, being held as guarantors for the repayment of their transportation to the

US. Whilst many of them claimed not to have left the factory in 7 years, thus

generating great attention from the public eye at the time, the whole scandal has

slowly faded away, after Wal-Mart, who reportedly was paying as little as 10 pence

per hour towards the production of the garments and was the global giant directly

responsible for the event, had issued a statement ensuring the public that measures

would be taken. The following tragedies that took place over the next 13 years, such

as the Choudry Knitwear Factory fire in Bangladesh in 2000, where 51 workers of

which 15 children aged 10 to 14 years old were killed, or the JMS Garments Factory

in Chittagong in Bangladesh in 2008, where activist groups have found that workers

were forced to take 19 hours shifts while being paid around $19 per month, came to

reassure that in fact Wal-Mart, who was again responsible, has not managed to


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develop and implement their highly promoted corporate social responsibility policy,

but has merely attempted to secure their public image by investing millions in PR


Who is responsible?

Whilst we refuse to draw a line and conclude that Wal-Mart follows a hidden

destructive internal course of action aimed to practically exterminate their

subcontracted workers, a series of logical questions may arise, concerning the real

causes for these abuses. Where does the implementation of the corporate social

responsibility policies fail? Is Wal-Mart the sole responsible? Whilst social media

research shows uncertainty in terms of pointing out a sole organisation as being

accountable, the reality is that, in fact, these companies are undertaking some efforts

towards a more sustainable way of production and supply chain management.

The downside of globalisation from this perspective is that whilst corporate social

responsibility may not simply consist of a statement published on a website and may

be the underpinning of real implementation strategies that are operated and controlled,

the extent to which they could be easily measured, remains uncertain. The issue

remains whether an organisation can manage to measure performance in a global

context. The degree to which a company may be held responsible for the actions of a

7th tier supplier who has spread the production line across various countries seems

uncertain. Whilst conducting a PESTEL analysis is understandably the very first step

a company must take when deciding to go global, i.e. look at political, economical,

social, technological, legal and environmental factors influencing the accomplishment

of their already established corporate social responsibility, the issue of control over

the supply chain plays a major part in terms of failing to comply with the transparency


For example when GAP, Next and M&S were implicated in a fairly recent sweatshop

scandal in 2010 involving their garment factories in India, they took a public stand

and emphasized that they were utterly unaware of these abuses and reassured their

stakeholders they were already conducting their own enquiries in the matter, which

resulted in a public apology given by the Indian chairman of the subcontracted


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companies involved. The issue, therefore, has become one of shifting responsibility

down the supply chain.

Fast Fashion and its effects on social responsibility

Fast Fashion and Supply Chain Management

As the manufacturing activity is in constant transformation in search for productivity

in terms of lower wages and lower production costs, global supply chains have

become complex multi layered systems strategically dispersed over various locations

around the world. Statistically, in 2005, the apparel industry in the US only was

upheld by imports made from 154 countries. In 2003, Nike was controlling a network

of 1100 suppliers located in 54 countries whilst GAP reported to outsource its

production to over 2000 suppliers located in 50 countries. Managing such extensive

supply chain networks can prove to be extremely difficult, especially because of the

recently developed concept of “fast fashion”, where responsiveness and speed-to-

market are crucial elements adding up to a company’s competitive stance, whilst the

way in which these are strategically managed has a direct influence on the company’s

level of success.

The effect of global trade in the fashion industry has resulted in the ability to produce

large quantities of garments at low cost, thus giving birth to a new era in the retail

world, where fashion has become “democratic” by being easily accessible to all, as

opposed to the past reality when fashion was practiced exclusively by the elite

segment of the society (Agins, 2007). With H&M and Zara pioneering the “fast-

fashion” phenomenon back in the 1990’s, nowadays consumers are used to fashion

stores continuously re-stocking their shelves, as opposed to the historical seasonal


From an operational perspective, “fast fashion” means that companies must produce

fashionable pieces of clothing on relatively large scales according to carefully

measured demand stimuli, within a maximum of four weeks after being released by

designers on the catwalk and at such low prices that a large segment of the market –

especially middle class and low class population – is targeted.


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Vertical Integration and Corporate Social Responsibility

Easy access to communication and technology and global free trade agreements have

led to a fierce market competition, retailers constantly trying to differentiate their

products through branding. Brand development and positioning is one of the issues

international marketing managers are taking into account when creating viable market

entry strategies. Subsequently, the degree to which a fashion retailer may be involved

in the production of the branded product is key.

If a company decides to have a “hands on” approach in terms of the design, the

manufacturing process and the distribution systems of a product – a method that is

also called “vertical integration” - the risk of encountering operational difficulties and

social sustainability misbehaviours would significantly decrease. For instance, Louis

Vuitton has such a proactive approach in terms of brand positioning that has decided

to vertically integrate its major leather producers so as to be able to monitor all stages

of the leather production.

Keeping in mind that the company’s research department has discovered that leather

is of the highest quality when the producing cows are brought up in a free-range

environment, being fed a particular nutritional package, Louis Vuitton started to

implement a normative standard according to which the cows are being looked after in

such a way that their skin - used in the manufacturing of the branded bags, belts and

garments - is of the highest quality.

Full control is therefore desired when a tendency to protect and value the brand is

enforced: the stronger the brand, the higher the control a company is exerting over the

way in which that brand is produced and presented to the public. In such cases, issues

such as ethics and social responsibility are not a concern but a way to positively

enhance the brand’s reputation – the risk of corporate social and environmental

misconduct is practically entirely eliminated.


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Nevertheless, the exerting of such high levels of control over the production

operations implies that an increased level of capital is needed together with a longer

amount of time spent to carry out the operational procedures. This may prove difficult

to overcome for fast fashion competitors, firstly because time is of essence in such a

fast paced competitive market and secondly, from a management perspective, getting

up to date with the most effective and high-tech logistical routines as opposed to

outsourcing them to specialized providers who possess a great amount of expertise,

would require an enormous amount of capital to be invested. As a direct result, the

allocation of a larger amount of capital in the production process would have a direct

influence on the price of the finished products – which would be significantly higher

and consequently lead to losing customer loyalty.

Therefore, the fully integrated outsourcing system would not prove to be effective on

the fast fashion market even though it seems to provide the best solution in terms of

lowering failure risks by having a “hands-on” management approach on corporate

social responsibility.

The fully outsourcing method: failure points

When a company addresses the make or buy question, it must primarily focus on the

specific areas it decides to compete on, leaving the rest of the operational segment to

be outsourced. This model was first introduced in the car industry when Toyota – who

is the representative of one of the oldest and most successful supply chains in the

world and the pioneer of the “just-in-time” logistical model – has decided to

strategically outsource 85 per cent of their car production after recognizing that they

lacked the high-end expertise together with the necessary skills and resources needed

to design and manufacture wide-ranging cars in-house. As a result, nowadays, Toyota

produces as little as 15 per cent of each car they sell, their competitive stance being

dictated by brand positioning and a constant thrive towards building a global

reputation for reliability and excellence in customer service and relationships.

Moreover, according to the recent marketing trends, the car industry is revolutionizing

their brand perception characteristics: car giants no longer aim to simply sell cars as

their tangible products, but pretend to offer customers entire experiences.


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As opposed to the car industry, where the purchasing behaviour is strongly brand

oriented and backed up by a rationalized decision-making process, fast fashion

purchasing seems to be rather impulsive and price oriented. Whilst a retailer such as

Primark, who competes on “style, quality and affordable prices all rolled into one”

together with a fantastic speed to market is following Toyota’s supply chain model

driven by economic stimuli such as cost, quality, delivery and flexibility, it must

direct its efforts towards thriving to improve efficiency and responsiveness to

consumers demand, rather than induce brand loyalty. When looking at how crucial

these attributes are in terms of improving speed to market, enhancing quality and

reducing cost, it can be said that fashion retailers such as Primark are not actually

competing on their brands but effectively on their supply chains. Should Primark’s

suppliers fail to comply with the required cost, quality, delivery and flexibility

attributes, the result would be devastating and strongly resented in terms of losing

customer loyalty.

The fully outsourced method involves working with subcontractors that possess the

necessary resources and expertise to produce high quality products. In addition, the

burden of outsourcing the prime material, procurement, operational procedures and

costs, human resource management, inventory, logistics etc. is placed on the

suppliers’ shoulders, whilst the retailer would usually make contact with the

outsourcer and not with the manufacturing plant. An outsourcer may further

subcontract the work to various factories around the world. Figure 1 illustrates an

example of how a global supply chain for a fashion retailer might look, with a

particular focus on the issue of control. By analysing the diagram, it can be stated that

the further away from the fashion retailer the production process takes place, the

lesser control over the operational and procurement methods together with the correct

implementation of the CSR policy the fashion retailer has. If we were to create a

distribution blueprint in order to identify possible failure points along the supply

chain, issues such as poor communication derived from the lack of a strong

relationship management would arise.

While the theory presents performance management as a way of measuring how

effective the implementation of a company’s corporate social strategy is by looking at

its economic activity and its influence on society, the reality may prove otherwise.


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What really happens, in terms of the establishment and maintenance of a business

relationship between the retailer and the subcontractor is that most of the times the

business relationship is focused on economic efficiency whilst the corporate social

responsibility policies tend to be filed up and added to the paperwork load.

The fashion retailer-supplier relationship: a vicious circle

The scenario bellow attempts to provide a reflective description of the business

relationship between fashion retailers and subcontractors and is based on primary

research conducted over years of experience as being involved in the ownership of a

clothing-manufacturing factory in Romania. The analysis is carried out with a focus

on corporate social responsibility and identifies real-world failure points attempting to

provide practical solutions at the end.

After the outsourcing decision has been made, the fashion retailer would select its

potential supplier based on their reputation within the industry together with their low

production cost offer. The retailer would then send a fashion buyer and a contracts

manager to meet with the outsourcer and the negotiation stage starts.

Upon the first meeting, the supplier is given a garment pattern to be materialized into

a garment sample so as to make sure the quality compliance measurement is met.

Even though clothing manufacturers adhere to quality agreed standards qualifications

i.e. ISO1400, BS7570 etc., the fashion buyer would most certainly require proof of

quality before starting negotiations.

The meeting is usually held at the subcontractor’s headquarters and it is highly

unlikely that the fashion retailer’s representative may be interested in visiting the


In terms of negotiations, the primary focus is on the supplier’s profit and not on the

manufacturing price of the actual product. The retailer knows exactly how much the

production of a particular piece of garment costs and as a result, the negotiation is not

made on a price basis but on a profit basis. In situations where a big retailer, such s

Atmosphere, who is a primary subcontractor for Primark, approaches a relatively

small outsourcer who might run its business in a developing county, the negotiation


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translates into an offer that the supplier cannot afford to turn down due to potentially

profitable prospects of future collaboration with such a renowned fashion retailer. As

a result, some degree of informal pressure exerted by the retailer is passed on and the

outsourcer must comply with the necessary requirements in order to secure business

continuity - in other words, the supplier must show flexibility attributes.

After the first meeting is completed, the retailer would subsequently place a tester

order by sending a small number of garment patterns for which a small quantity of

production restricted by a given time limit would be required. The better the supplier

manages to deliver that order and within the mentioned time frame, the more likely is

that the retailer would chose to continue their business relationship.

After the second stage is completed and the outsourcer is nominated as being the

official supplier to the fashion retailer, the business relationship is maintained through

constant cooperation from both sides, aimed to minimize the outsourcer’s production

costs and enhance productivity in the long term, thus developing an economically

sustainable bond. As a result, the retailer would assess the complete financial record

of the factory’s fixed costs and conduct its own independent research into finding low

cost alternatives. Solutions such as: finding a cheaper substitute to supply the factory

with electricity or water or an alternative cost effective prime material supplier are

usually accepted solutions and are implemented with immediate effect.

Additionally, giving that fashion retailers are usually large multinational corporations,

they would also seek to request governmental facilities in exchange for their choice to

conduct their business in specific countries. In most cases, the governments in these

countries would enthusiastically comply and subsequently offer facilities such as: low

corporate tax, low import-export tax, etc., especially because hosting such business

active MNC’s would have a positive impact on their countries’ economies.

Unfortunately, the process of production in the apparel industry may be described as a

vicious circle in the way that while retailers are constantly pushing towards cheap

costs and speed to market in order to satisfy the increasing consumer demand, the

suppliers find themselves in a situation where they must exert oppression against

workers and cut-corners in terms of investment and expenses in order to meet the

flexibility requirements. Moreover, the speed towards which the fast-fashion concept


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is heading, as the process can be regarding as continuously developing, will make it

difficult for suppliers to even consider corporate social responsibility. The initiative,

however, must start at a corporate level and must be initiated by the retailer.

A duty of care

When looking at the effort made by both parties in order to handle the business

relationship effectively, it can be noticed that even though the fashion retailer, by

subcontracting, has virtually no control over the production process, the reality as

depicted from the above scenario, proves that, in fact, the business relationship is

constantly monitored and a focus on social and environmental sustainability at every

negotiation stage is achievable, should the retailer push an effective CSR plan be

pushed as essential normative regulation.

When this is the case, situations such as the recent sweatshop scandal where retailers

such as GAP, M&S and Next took a defensive stand on reassuring the public that they

were unaware of any corporate social responsibility malpractices should not be

recognized and accepted as valid. Companies have a duty of care for their

stakeholders and shifting responsibility down the supply chain is, in fact, business

reality nonsense. A new method must emerge in terms of the way in which corporate

social responsibility is presented and insisted upon and fashion retailers must develop

and maintain outcome-focused relationships with their suppliers based on collateral

inputs. Such inputs might require the allocation of extra capital in order to provide

extra staff, technology, time and effort etc., however, they would not only result in a

positive outcome solely in terms of social responsibility, but would also improve the

information flow within the supply chain.

Supplier development is increasingly focusing on measuring the performance and

responsiveness of the outsourcers. Defined as “any effort of a buying firm with a

supplier to increase its performance and / or long term needs” (Krausse 1999),

supplier development is crucial, especially to companies who compete on short lead

times in terms of product manufacturing and distribution. Moreover, fashion retailers

are actively intervening in their suppliers’ activities and whilst they would craft

specific policies and valid practices for social responsibility, the success of the


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business relationship should depend on how well the suppliers manage to accomplish

the implementation of these dimensions.

Transparency is the key element contributing to strategic alignment - the ability to

link the operational strategies with business and corporate level strategies must be a

priority. Strategy alignment can either be “top-down” i.e. implemented by the fashion

retailer’s corporate strategy and supported by the supply chain, or it can be “bottom-

up” i.e. acquired through feedback from the suppliers, the information flow running

from the supply chain and towards the retailer.

By looking at all the proactive actions both retailers and suppliers are undertaking in

maintaining their business relationship, it can be stated that the theoretical framework

of Total Responsibility Management, seen as the strategic means through which a

fashion retailer manages to comply with their obligations to society and the

environment, should not fail in practice. (Waddock and Bodwell, 2002) Total

Responsibility Management is underpinned by three commitment practices:

Inspiration – given by the management commitment to promote social and

environmental soundness in supply chains

Integration – consisting in actual changes made throughout the supply chain

Innovation – given by performance measurement and improvement processes

Environmental concerns

Environmentally speaking, the lengths to which retailers go when attempting to meet

their customers’ needs are raising immediate concerns. Toxic emissions into national

waters coming from manufacturing factories are the main cause for fish and animal

extinction. Moreover, toxic gas emissions have an effect on both humans and the

natural climate, causing various diseases and a disruption in the normal cycle of the

ecosystem. Little has been written on companies’ attempt to raise consumers’

proactive involvement into developing strategies that would involve the customers’

participation. Companies must focus their research on finding the total environmental

cost per manufactured item and examine the pricing strategy used in fast fashion in an


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attempt to create a link it to the willingness of the customer to pay more for

environmentally friendly fast fashion (Ethical Style, 2009). In other words, such a

strategy must be formulated in a way that would generate value in the eyes of the


The published environmental statistics in relation to the devastating effects of the fast

fashion production point to areas where sustainable solutions can be put in practice.

The UN Global Compact Principles is initiating standardized codes of conduct

together with strict monitoring strategies for compliance. Moreover, international

environmental standards such as ISO 14001 are patronized by the national

governments in 157 countries. However, issues such as landfill and packaging

disposal are yet to be tackled.

The life-cycle assessment in the textile industry must be initiated at the beginning of

the supply chain, starting with the raw materials supplier and ending after the product

has reached the customer. The on-going debate on whether fast fashion retailers

should be made responsible for the usage length together with the way in which

customers decide to dispose of the old items is still left at the theoretical stage.

However, forward-looking retailers must develop environmental strategies

incorporating the idea of garment recycling and active post consumer collection (this

may also have a positive effect on a social scale). Garments recycling can also prove

to be economical, through the implementation of cost saving practices, as the

transformation of the old fabrics into new fibre would not only diminish the

company’s carbon footprint, but would also reduce procurement costs. Retailers may

also consider adopting viable solutions such as offering their customers small

incentives in the form of discounts or promotions for returning their unwanted

merchandise to the stores.

The Stakeholder Theory and its practicality

Corporate social responsibility is directly reliant on the level of involvement of

various stakeholder groups, the stakeholder theory applying to the effects

organisations’ performances have on various social groups they are interacting with.


Page 20: Too Fast to Sustain2

These groups may be defined as “persons who have, or claim ownership, rights or

interests in a corporation and its activities past, present or future” (Clarkson, 1995).

As a result, it is important that when initiating and further applying corporate social

responsibility policies, companies take into account the influence these may have on a

wide range of people that, according to Dickson, Locker and Eckham, 2010, fall into

specific categories:


Labour unions

Governments and intergovernmental organisations

Advocacy organisations

Consumer and pressure groups

Colleges and universities

Financial markets and investors

Civil society organisations

Workers are the first section that must be considered a top priority when creating

particular codes of conducts and whilst monitoring of labour rights violations are

consistent priorities labour unions are concerned with, the extent to which these are in

fact correctly implemented and inclusive of standardized labour practices and working

conditions remains uncertain. This uncertainty results from the fact that companies

tend to justify the appearance of unethical conducts within the supply chains as areas

positioned outside their control area. However, it has been proved that retailers have

the capacity to exert a strong degree of control over their suppliers in areas such as

production cost and quality control and as a result, the practicality of proactively

enforcing corporate responsibility pressures over the suppliers is valid. Surely, when

the retailer initiates negotiations with the supplier, an initial check-up for compliance

with basic labour conditions can be undertaken. Moreover, regular visits to the

factories, where suppliers’ representatives can undertake protocol appointments and

actively interconnect with the workers in order to both communicate the

organization’s social responsibility policies and obtain feedback in terms of how well

official codes of conduct are included into the factory’s day-to-day activities, can be



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Considering that fashion retailers are large multinational corporations in constant

collaboration with governments and intergovernmental organizations, the adoption of

a “global code of conduct”, enforced on a global scale may not be difficult to achieve.

Issues such as health and safety, working wages, environmental soundness and

socially responsible accepted working standards can be identified as similar on a

global scale, the developing countries workforce being differentiated only by the

minimum wage level. The birth a global regulatory body working together with

governments and organizations to create an enforcing authority must come from

within the industry and be supported by stakeholders in order to function.

If we have a ‘global product’ manufactured in a ‘global supply chain’ and sold to a

‘global market’, why not think about creating a global standard in terms of labour and

manufacturing? Little has been written or debated on the idea of supporting and

regulating the ‘global worker’ and the proactive steps needed to be taken through

understanding the mix of cultural dimensions together with socio-political factors in

countries around the world, where the involvement of stakeholders such as

governments and intergovernmental organisations is crucial, must be translated into a

piece of international law. The global worker would be the next sensible step in

achieving responsible global capitalism and whilst this may not remain at a theoretical

stage, organisations need to consider reforming their managerial and operational

strategies and together with a raising awareness from local governments, civil society

and all the implicit participating institutions of which the social media plays a crucial

role, the ‘global worker’ can become reality.

The adoption of a “global code of conduct” should be stipulated as compulsory for

companies who make use of free trade agreements between countries and should be

materialized into an international piece of law that can be enforced on a global level.

The “global worker” notion may become reality, should the Fair Labour Association –

a non-profit organization dedicated to end sweatshop labour around the world –

decide to develop measurement benchmarks and proactively identify non-compliance

factors. Whilst many fashion retailers have adopted various codes of conducts since

the 1990’s, the actual enforcement of these regulations has proved not to be



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Conclusion – Organising business for social responsibility

This thesis has only managed to exemplify some of the challenges both fashion retailers and suppliers must confront when striving to be both competitive and socially sustainable on a fast changing market. Whilst corporate social responsibility must be central to any business endeavor in order to be resented throughout its activities, the effect of globalisation has had far too many negative consequences in terms of socio-ethical conduct. Whereas, in general, social responsibility refers to the need for companies to pursue specific policies and make decisions that honor the society as a whole together with adjacent communities, it can be stated that consumers and other stakeholders play a crucial role in the way in which these businesses chose to operate and measure performance. Whilst a raising awareness from the consumers side towards issues related to sustainable production and ethics can be seen, the concept of throwaway fashion comes to overrule the idea that, in fact, nowadays customers are, indeed, actively involved to support socio-ethical production routines. From an environmental perspective, an effort into developing environmental strategies incorporating the idea of garment recycling must be made whilst a focus on the active pursuit of stakeholders’ involvement must be initiated. Should the production process in the fashion industry continue at the same pace, the results might, in fact, prove to be disastrous. The idea of creating and enforcing a “global code of conduct” may be one of the solutions pushed forwards. Whilst this paper is merely attempting to structure the issues that need to be tackled, further research must be undertaken in order to have a clear view on how possible solutions need to be tackled and put in practice.


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Social Corporate



Quality Control

Figure 1 - Created by myself to illustrate the issue of control within the supply chain

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