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CEO Agenda
5 priorities for
a prosperous industry
CEO Agenda
5 priorities for
a prosperous industry
Fashion CEO Agenda

The Fashion CEO Agenda is a guide to what every CEO in fashion needs to prioritise to future-proof their company and can be used as a tool by fashion leaders to set holistic sustainability strategies.

This vision statement for the fashion industry highlights the imperative need for the coexistence of social and environmental sustainability.

Explore the website for the five most crucial priorities to take critical action in achieving the vision!

Together, we must work towards a thriving industry that creates prosperity for all people and communities by working within planetary boundaries, reversing its impact on climate change and protecting biodiversity.

CEO Agenda
5 priorities for
a prosperous industry


The past year challenged global structures, especially regarding necessary rapid environmental progress and the lack of secure social protection schemes: COVID-19 hit the industry unprecedently, demanding real-time actions and long-term sight. Industry players had to shift focus on job re-creation and the fair distribution of risks and profits along the value chain. In addition, long-standing systemic racism and the Black Lives Matter movement called for racial equity and dignity for marginalised and black communities.

If we fail to take coordinated action on the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, we can expect to see increasingly common crises such as heatwaves or rising sea levels damage complex ecosystems that are vital to our future.1 These systemic issues are apparent in the reality of climate change, exemplifying an intersectional environmental crisis that is set to produce socioeconomic impacts over the coming years, foremost affecting marginalised communities and people of colour. Fashion leaders are urged to focus their efforts on diversity, equity and inclusivity along the value chain to positively contribute to a just society and communities globally.

When picturing a post-pandemic fashion industry, it is not built from scratch but inspired by existing tools and technologies that will move from ideation to reality and from pilots to wide-scale adoption. Some shifts such as production to demand, increased product lifetime values, a less season-dependent design and product flow, textile-to-textile recycling or resale will be accelerated, while long-known best practices such as collaborative partnerships between all stakeholders in the value chain may become building blocks of business operations. Placing value-driven practices at the core of business will enhance capabilities for change management, allowing headway in the transformation of potential financial, social and environmental risks into untapped business opportunities and points of engagement with suppliers, customers and the investment community.

Fashion CEO Agenda
Respectful and secure work environments

Why does it matter?

The fashion value chain employs 65 million people,2 many of whom are exposed to occupational hazards, ranging from exposure to dangerous work conditions to discrimination.3 Human rights violations occur at various value chain stages and, if addressed, are tackled differently depending on brand impact and local context. The increased risk of the occurrence of forced labour across several countries in the value chain demands the worldwide attention of both governments and private-sector actors. While the industry has come a long way in recent years, more is required of brands and their value chains.

A majority of the global garment workforce is female4 and many of these women are subject to discrimination.5 Improved work conditions and investment in skill building and promoting topics, such as health, physical and psychological safety, financial inclusion, diversity and gender equality, can increase the EBIT margin by up to 1–2 percentage points by 2030, as compared to the 2015 baseline.6 Secure and respectful work environments can bring numerous economic benefits: higher productivity, fewer sick days, less errors and shorter turnaround times. Respectful and secure work environments are also a key factor in end-to-end employee attraction and retention, whereby a stable income for female garment workers in particular is vital for their communities and their countries’ economies.7

Despite existing legislation on chemicals at European level, such as REACH, as well as at local level,8 many workers, especially in the early stages of the value chain, continue to be exposed to dangers such as factory fires and the use of hazardous chemicals. Technology can rid workers of repetitive and dangerous tasks, allowing them to focus on more creative and rewarding activities.9 Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will create new jobs, but those who lose their jobs in this transition may be the least equipped to seize new opportunities10 that such innovation creates. Shifting to a circular fashion system, for instance, could provide the opportunity to retain and create jobs along the value chain with concentrated efforts from industry players to re- and upskill displaced workers.

Where are we today ?

In the past year, COVID-19 exposed the importance of social safety nets, protection schemes as well as robust governance and infrastructures in line with the need for fast government action on both local and global level. Some European Union Member States have already legislated on sustainable corporate governance, while others are considering action. In April 2020, the EU announced with the European Commission the introduction of a legislative initiative in 2021 based on two pillars: mandatory due diligence for companies and an initiative meant to clarify directors’ duties. This is not only of significant relevance to the protection of millions of workers and their livelihoods, but also for manufacturers to remain viable as they face increasing financial pressure. Countless manufacturers are not resilient enough to overcome the pandemic, resulting in factories closing and workers being furloughed or laid off.11

Additional health risks of attending work and being exposed to COVID-19 increased employment insecurity. Currently, the key manufacturing regions that are affected by the pandemic are India, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Indonesia, with negative outlooks on logistics, cash flow and labour12 – whereby lockdowns are most frequently cited as the reason for supply constraints.13 Governments in these regions have taken measures to support the industry with fiscal and monetary policies, but despite those interventions, the medium-term outlook is pessimistic.14

Respect and protection of universal human rights are a state duty to which companies are required to adhere.15 Ongoing online discussions, mainstream media coverage and consumer expectations continue to raise public awareness on this topic. Up to 87% of Millennials and a staggering 94% of Gen Z expect companies to address a plethora of pressing social and environmental issues, including poverty and hunger, economic development and an array of human rights issues, such as racial equality and women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.16

How to take action?

As a first move, brands have to double-down on measures already being implemented to reduce distress for suppliers. The baseline for companies is to act as fair business partners that live up to existing commitments and to track garment workers along the value chain are paid while supporting suppliers in keeping businesses afloat as much as possible: 20-30% of industry players are supporting the financial positions of suppliers by providing payments for raw materials and fabrics as well as prepaying orders.17 By joining ongoing industry efforts to mitigate the economic and social consequences in manufacturing countries, they can support the security and survival of a functional value chain and its workers.

As part of accelerated digitalisation processes, we encourage frontrunners to help drive investment in training, re-skilling and up-skilling and to engage in contingency planning. Considering the prospective magnitude of the change, executives are asked to reach out to their manufacturers and local governments to gauge the possible ramifications of technology-driven production methods and to prepare to support workforce transitions at scale.

Frontrunners can work with brands, manufacturers, employee representatives, local governments and associations to collaboratively raise standards and track the progress of human and labour rights. This will allow voices of workers to be heard and to raise industry compliance standards adhering to the OECD’s mandatory due diligence guidelines18 and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.19

The forthcoming EU legislation on due diligence is expected to include requirement20 for companies to demonstrate, document and communicate policies and processes of their purchasing practices and to safeguard universal human rights.21 This includes safe working conditions, no discrimination and no forced labour for all people employed, directly or indirectly, in the production and marketing of products. Transparency plays a crucial role in this process for a foundation that is built on trust and that enables information sharing.


Scaling adoption of common global assessments 

To drive greater performance improvements through the scaled adoption of common global assessments for the industry, Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has fully committed to the implementation of the Social & Labor Convergence Program’s (SLCP) Converged Assessment Framework (CAF), acting as the backbone of the Higg Facility Social Labor Module (FSLM).

As one of the largest adopters of the CAF, SAC is driving the converged measurement of social conditions across their 200+ members – accounting for a significant proportion of the industry, achieving 3318 verified FLSM completions to date.

By leveraging the CAF through the FLSM, SAC signifies to the industry that using converged tools is essential for improving working conditions – eliminating duplicative and repetitive proprietary social and labour audits for facilities with a single verified assessment.

Additionally, providing high-quality data that can be translated into meaningful insights that drive pre-competitive collaborations, prompt action, accountability and inform consumer choice.

As the CAF continues to evolve, the SAC will work with its members to scale adoption of the tool and influence its development to ensure that it remains relevant and useful for all stakeholders.

Partnership is the new leadership, and we need collective action to succeed as an industry. By collaborating with the SLCP and leveraging the CAF at scale, we can help brands, retailers, and manufacturers assess their social impacts and strategically direct valuable resources towards efforts that meaningfully improve conditions for garment workers globally.” – Amina Razvi, Executive Director, Sustainable Apparel Coalition

To find out more and be a part of SLCP’s multi-stakeholder initiative, contact SLCP here.


Social & Labor Convergence Program 


As a result of the recent proliferation in auditing combined with a lack of industry collaboration to converge on social audits, manufacturers are increasingly required to complete unique duplicative assessments for different fashion brands – proving to be a significant social and financial burden. This is where the role of the Social & Labor Convergence Program (SLCP) comes in. With the aim to eliminate audit fatigue and support efforts to improve working conditions, SLCP provides a systemic solution to the existing misalignment of social auditing through a Converged Assessment Framework (CAF). The 240+ signatory-strong initiative offers the industry a common tool to reduce the repetitive, resource-intensive and duplicative nature of social auditing for garment manufacturers and increase supply chain transparency. The end goal being to redirect capital saved on social audits to programs which work to improve factory conditions for garment workers.  

SLCP is now live across 50+ countries and regions with more than 40 brands and standard holders currently accepting SLCP data in lieu of proprietary tools. In 2020 alone, 1455 verified assessments were completed with 70% of brands surveyed having plans in place to track and redeploy capital saved to social impact programmes. SLCP aims to reach a goal of 25,000 verified assessments per year to unlock over $100 million USD for improvement actions, with 4000 verified assessments expected for 2021. 


Since 2016, American retailer and leading signatory of SLCP Target has been working to create a positive social impact across its supply chain through the adoption of SLCP’s Converged Assessment Framework. By using the converged assessment framework instead of its own proprietary audit, Target has saved thousands of unique audits and audit costs across its supply chain and is now encouraging other brands to follow suit, driving the convergence of social audits across the industry.   

To find out more and be a part of SLCP’s multi-stakeholder initiative, contact SLCP here


Business for Social Responsibility


Today, the prevalence of violence for women in Asia including its garment industry is unwarrantable with 60% of garment workers in India and Bangladesh having reportedly experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. As part of BSR’s wider collaborative initiative HERprojectTM, the HERrespect programme aims to cultivate gender equitable attitudes and relationships among women and men, contributing to stronger workplace relationships, prevention of gender-based violence, and strengthening the ability of workplaces to respond to incidents of gender-based violence. From the programme’s induction in 2018 to Fall 2020, 19 factories have completed the 18-month programme reaching 9,010 women, 3,517 male workers, 100 managers and the successful roll out of training for 188 peer educators. 

A garment factory based in Bangalore, India, which supplies to a global specialty retailer was one of the factories who completed the HERrespect programme. 

1,400 workers including women, men, and supervisors were reached either through direct training or through a peer-to-peer educator methodology. The project, co-delivered with Swasti – a local expert organisation focused on health and well-being – included a 6-module on-site training for workers and supervisors, covering topics on soft skills, communication styles, gender norms, violence and relationships, and support networks. HERrespect also supported and guided the factory to strengthen their systems to reduce the risk of women facing gender-based violence at the workplace, and to build organisational systems that respond timely and fairly when workers raise complaints about these behaviors. Results taking from the end-line programme survey showed a significant reduction in workers’ acceptance of violence against women and gender-unequal statements, with both male and female workers reporting that ‘supervisors punishing employees is a normal and acceptable occurrence’ dropping from 50% to 6%, plus the belief that ‘women deserve to be beaten sometimes’ falling from 32% to 4%. 

To find out how you can join BSR’s HERproject in addressing harassment and violence in the workplace visit HERprojectTM here


Promoting the industry-wide implementation of wages and working conditions that meet the basic needs of workers presents an opportunity for fashion brands to enhance the prosperity of the economies and people that interact with the value chain, including the formal, subcontracted and informal workers who contribute to goods manufacturing. A significant proportion of garment workers operate in the informal economy and face increased vulnerability, often due to the lack of labour protection and health support for factory workers. COVID-19 affected these workers in particular, as there were no forms of protection available to them. This calls for strong governance structures, compliance and social protection schemes as part of compensation packages.22, 23

Although most fashion brands do not set the wages of production workers, they have a role to play in promoting systemic change, which is needed due to institutional failings. Fashion brands can work with manufacturers to strengthen compliance and to create mechanisms for transparent recordkeeping and fair living wages. In partnership with manufacturers, fashion brands can further explore opportunities in areas such as training and digitalisation of payment systems.

Implementing improvements in wage systems for garment workers could not only improve the lives of workers and their families through health, safety and education, but also increase productivity and reduce employee attrition, raise the quality of output, improve the reliability of deliveries and foster employee-driven innovation based on elevated empowerment in the workplace.24 Fair wage systems can also contribute to garment workers’ wellbeing and reduce the occurrence of antisocial events or violence. Fairer and more transparent wage setting mechanisms – such as through fair negotiations with trade unions and worker representatives – can also reduce the number of strikes and labour unrest, resulting in reduced costs for factories and lowered risk of supply disruptions for brands.25 Such systemic change will not happen overnight. It requires unprecedented, pre-competitive collaboration between companies and other stakeholders. Lastly, it will require government efforts following the initial progress of several national responses from, e.g. Sweden, Spain and Belgium or the 2015 UK Modern Slavery Act26 that requires many businesses to at least disclose a slavery and human trafficking statement. At the European level, the forthcoming due diligence legislation is expected to have positive impacts on the quality of jobs, wages and work conditions, ending child labour in the value chain and increasing respect for human rights.27


The conversation about wages in the fashion industry has to overcome its sensitivity for wages to move away from a race to the bottom and to include additional benefits for workers such as support systems and healthcare. This emphasises the importance of equally fair wages supported by purchasing practices, ring-fencing labour costs and excluding them from price negotiations.

An overarching challenge is the current lack of a commonly agreed upon definition of a living wage,28 which is confounded further by the gap between legal minimum wages and varying conceptions of living wages in most garment-producing regions. For the broader fashion industry, research suggests that many factories fail to comply with applicable minimum wage laws and that, even when in compliance with minimum wages, the wages paid in some garment-producing countries remain too low to meet the basic needs of workers.29 Inadequate wages are often linked to broader issues, such as a lack of governance and institutional support mechanisms.30

COVID-19 risks wage systems to become secondary given its strong implications on securing jobs at a global scale. Factories and brands that have adhered to employment contracts, implemented employee protection schemes and employed more transparent pay mechanisms have experienced positive results in terms of resilience and performance.31

A holistic understanding of how wages should be measured and how systemic change towards better wage systems can be brought about needs to be developed. The lack of clear roadmaps or benchmarks, alongside a lack of transparency on wage data, remain significant obstacles.32 At present, only a minority of companies explain the wage estimates that they use to track and benchmark worker wages within their value chain, meet each worker’s needs and provide some discretionary income.33


Fashion brands need to ensure strong due diligence and supply chain strategies for compliance of their suppliers with local laws, international obligations and agreements. We encourage brands to explore how improvements in areas such as purchasing, productivity, training and data implementation can contribute to the establishment of improved wage systems and to investigate systems of wage setting, such as collective bargaining agreements. Brands can support the improvement of manufacturers’ compensation and working conditions, which in turn can lead to better working environments.34

In response to the pandemic, industry players and governments can support and extend wage and social protection schemes through the period of lockdown, carefully consult plans to reopen factories to prioritise the safety of workers and ensure that garment workers are paid wages that meet their needs post-crisis.35

Governments play a vital role in developing policy frameworks, facilitating multi-stakeholder dialogue and leading by example in public procurement practices.36 As part of the European Circular Economy Action Plan,37 forthcoming mandatory Green Public Procurement criteria and targets in sectoral legislation have been announced.


International Labour Organization


When COVID-19 broke out, workers across manufacturing hotspots became victims to delayed and, in some cases, lost wage payments. As part of its package to address the crisis, the Better Work programme, a partnership between the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is actively promoting the use of digital wage payments. 

By introducing digital payment systems, occurrences of late and incorrect payments are significantly reduced, granting workers more control over their financial future, in turn acting as an important step for gender equity enabling women to manage their own finances via online banking and e-wallets. Digital wage payments also create an effective mechanism for workers to receive wage subsidies or income replacement payments.  

In Jordan, Better Work is collaborating with the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance, the German Development Cooperation (GIZ),  and key Jordanian stakeholders to pilot digital wage payments for garment workers.  

Following the large investment made by the Jordanian government and financial sector in digital payment technology, Jordanian workers were empowered to open e-wallets remotely enabling them to safely receive government aid and wages during the pandemic. As a result of these coordinated efforts, the number of e-wallets held by workers more than doubled between March and December 2020 reaching a total of 1,255,546 wallets with 1.3 million transactions made by the year end. Mobile money also facilitated access to governmental aid during the pandemic for more than 260,000 families who previously depended on cash. 

Based on the successful pilot in Jordan, there are clear benefits for this effort to be scaled to other manufacturing countries, with work currently being explored in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. To learn more about how you can play a part in moving the garment industry toward wage digitisation, email communications@betterwork.org

Internal enablers


Refers to the development of novel concepts and to the evolvement of individual business models and prevalent systems. Innovating business models can be a driving force to re-assess the cadence of the fashion system

and the value of fashion by provoking a cross-industry transition in fashion’s seasonality and by extending garments’ lifespan and lifetime value through e.g., resale or rental models


Is concerned with the incorporation of digital technologies into business processes that can enable

heightened traceability and real-time understanding of processes in the value chain


Is dependent on leadership qualities as well as knowledge and sensitivity of the top management to achieve lasting change. It is based on setting up internal structures that allow

decision-making and taking bold and immediate action without compromising on sustainability ambitions, targets or long-term visions.


Is defined as supply chain visibility that enables the tracking of the social and environmental impact of production. It s a prerequisite for identifying and improving the environmental,

social and financial risks and opportunities of fashion production and can help create a baseline for planning and target setting


To a variety of stakeholders and the wider public is an increasingly strong demand and

represents one aspect of a brand’s value proposition, reporting on targets, strategies, progress and actions.


Fashion is primarily produced in a linear system of “take, make, dispose”, with 73% of the world’s clothing eventually ending up in landfills.38 If textile collection rates were tripled by 2030, it could be worth more than €4 billion for the world economy.39 This figure merely represents the value of those products that would not end up in landfills. If the industry were to find a way to collect and recycle all fibres, the value could be up to €80 billion.40

While some brands have initiated the process of redesigning their product lifecycles, complexities around changing the linear model have slowed down the movement towards circularity.41 Unless the whole industry acts now, the linear model risks pushing past planetary boundaries.42 According to current forecasts, the world population will exceed 8.5 billion people by 2030,43 and to meet the Paris Agreement, one in five garments need to be traded through circular business models by 2030,44 demanding that industry players rapidly increase the pace of transformation to a circular fashion system.

Shifting to a more circular fashion system has the potential to promote improved working conditions for garment workers by conferring greater value to the garments produced, requiring partly new skillsets and production methods for repair and repurpose, while reducing the use of harmful inputs. The majority of garment workers lack access to upskilling opportunities and training, limiting their ability to respond to change and take advantage of new opportunities.45


For the first time, European policy requires Member States to organise the separate collection of post-consumer textile waste by 2025.46 Yet, many of today’s products are designed with neither durability nor recyclability in mind. Innovations in chemical recycling at large scale are underway and technological advances in textile-to-textile recycling offer commercial potential, while the use of mono-materials can ease recycling processes

Although companies are increasingly exploring circular models, progress is slow due to regulatory, logistical, technical and economic complexities regarding textile collection, recycling and the quality and safety of input materials. In addition, implications for worker incomes and job opportunities along the value chain have to be considered as shifts in job functions and types is likely as circular practices scale.47

As result of COVID-19 and a significant drop in demand, it is estimated that around 60 billion pieces of excess fashion products will be in circulation, representing a 140-200% increase.48 Once the obligation introduced by the EU’s 2018 Waste Directive49 enters into force at the end of 2024,50 leaders will be expected to swiftly find value-capturing alternatives to potential incineration or landfill for such excess stock, combined with an expected increase in the total volume of textile waste separately collected.


As a foundation, relevant teams need to understand the full impact of choices made in product creation. This includes, but is not limited to, designing for durability, disassembly and recycling and increasing the share of recycled fibres in products. Industry players should increase their efforts to set up well-functioning collection infrastructures to collect used garments and encourage consumers to engage in circular initiatives.

Frontrunners should explore circular business models that consider the lifetime value of garments to be circulated more often and for longer and enable recycling of post-consumer textiles at scale. Brands are also encouraged to explore new approaches to creating value in existing material streams.

In response to COVID-19, frontrunners are encouraged to work with value chain partners to identify pathways to reskill garment workers in remaking products or to expand the capacity of facilities to upcycle and recycle products. To restructure linear ways of conducting business, we encourage industry leaders to take concerted action on overstock and deadstock. Brands will need to conduct a thorough analysis of their deadstock, overstock and inventory levels to identify possible solutions. These can span from the re-evaluation of the lifespan of current collections, shifting collections to future seasons, pushing forward upcoming drops and exploring new ways to remake, reuse or recycle into raw materials.

Leaders are encouraged to collaborate with their peers, industry organisations, governments and consumers to develop a more comprehensive picture of the challenges and solutions involved in a circular system, given the widespread collection of used clothes and footwear, while investments in innovation and technological advances are of special importance for stages after the point of collection.

Business and policymakers must understand the impacts on jobs to equip, support and protect workers in this transition.51 Engaging with policymakers to develop collection, sorting and recycling infrastructures as well as enhancing and incentivising mechanisms to scale circular fashion systems, including the transboundary movement of waste at global scale, will be crucial. Significant and continued investment in the research and development of innovative and scalable technologies will allow the industry to turn waste into high-quality materials.

European policymakers are seemingly aware of the need to boost the sustainability performance of the sector and to address the challenges brought about by COVID-19. In turn, they are expected to come forward with measures in the framework of a comprehensive EU strategy for textiles. This is expected to include measures on eco-design to ensure that textile products are fit for the application of circularity; measures to ensure the uptake of secondary raw materials incentives and support to product-as-service models, circular materials and production processes; measures to boost the sorting, re-use and recycling of textiles, both through innovation and extended producer responsibility and guidance for Member States to achieve the required separation of collected textile waste target by 2025.52



The Jeans Redesign – Designing for a circular economy, today.

Through Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s) Jeans Redesign project , participating brands have put more than half a million pairs of circular jeans on the market demonstrating momentous possibilities for the wider fashion industry when it comes to circular design.

For decades, the denim industry has been responsible for a significant amount of waste and pollution, as it requires a large amount of resources during production. The iconic design and construction of jeans is also traditionally difficult to remake and recycle after use, all in all presenting a challenging but opportune starting point to address the flaws of the current linear economy.

The Jeans Redesign guidelines, created by the Foundation  with input from over 80 denim experts, provides minimum requirements for durability, traceability, and recyclability, while using safe materials and processes to ensure jeans are fit for a circular economy. 

To date, 94 participants representing brands, retailers, garment manufacturers, and fabric mills are working towards The Jeans Redesign guidelines and common definitions with many going beyond the requirements to collaborate with other businesses, innovate for new technologies, and invest in knowledge, capacity, fixed assets, inventory and procurement. Insights gained so far provide a clear picture of the current landscape of solutions, barriers, and innovation gaps for the industry to act on now across their product lines in order to further scale a circular economy.



Can be driven by a variety of stakeholders with the aim to raise awareness, educate and engage with citizens. 


Allow mutual target setting, co-investing in innovation, capacity building and sharing financial incentives between fashion brands and suppliers

to support sustainability agendas and to pre-empt future disruptions while championing fair purchasing practices.


Can play a major role in shifting towards sustainable business practices. Working and investing in solution providers as well as accelerated

efforts in research and development are essential to further the industry’s transformation.


Can support industry players to unlock solutions and innovations at scale.

Financing will flow into the fashion space when investors are presented with manageable risk, attractive returns, and measurable impact.  


Are vital in educating the wider public and raising awareness on risks and opportunities by disseminating

knowledge on sustainable development in the fashion industry in a digestible and engaging manner 


If developed constructively and pragmatically, can level the playing field for fashion industry players by establishing a system of accountability

and incentivising companies, suppliers and citizens toward more informed, responsible and long-term decisions.


Consumer industries are straining the use of natural resources and impacting biodiversity while planetary resources such as water and land are limited. Optimising resource efficiency and minimising the use of natural resources are crucial for the industry to operate within planetary boundaries, bearing in mind that there is only one decade remaining to avert the effects of climate change that beholds unprecedented challenges for our planet and its inhabitants.53

Today energy is cheap in comparison to the environmental impact of fossil fuels, but according to the European Commission, prices are already rising.54 In the future, an increase in demand and the introduction of carbon taxation could further drive up the cost of energy derived from fossil fuels. Clean drinking water, sanitation and water for crops will become increasingly scarce,55 Today, over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress.56 The unavailability and lack of access to clean water has further exacerbated the spread of COVID-19, as precautions cannot be met, leading to more pronounced inequality.57

Fortunately, the untapped potential for more efficient use of water and energy in textile processing is substantial and by now, considered as table stake. On average it has been shown that textile processing mills can cut water use by 11% and energy use by 7%, with a return on investment within nine months.58 Reducing the use and release of hazardous chemicals in textile and leather processing, including dying processes, will help improve the health of workers and reduce the impact on the environment. Enhancing water and energy efficiency, as well as chemical usage, has the potential to increase a fashion company’s EBIT margin up to 2-3 percentage points by 2030.59

By making more informed business decisions through increased transparency, businesses can mitigate negative impacts on the planet and workers along the value chain and strive to recapture value from materials considered as waste. Brands are urged to utilise traceability tools to enhance their understanding of potential ramifications for climate and biodiversity, illuminating consequences such as deforestation and pollution. European policymakers are expected to support brands in this process by providing necessary tools for increased traceability such as product passport tagging and watermarks.60


Looking at the fashion value chain, the activities with the largest impact on climate, water and chemical pollution can be found in the processing stage, which includes the preparation of fabrics such as spinning, weaving or dying.61 Thus, this stage represents a high priority for immediate action, from chemical tanning of leather to denim processing. Although leading fashion brands and suppliers have already made progress in this area, a large gap persists between top and bottom performers.62

Recent years have seen industry players coming together to invest in scaling efficiency programmes in processing stages. However, there is still significant potential for improvement for many companies, and this priority remains a low-hanging fruit for environmental and financial efficiency gains.63 If the industry continues to embrace current decarbonisation initiatives at the current pace, emissions will be capped at around 2.1 billion tonnes a year by 2030, around the same as they are now, leaving levels at nearly double the maximum required to meet the Paris Agreement.64


Brands and suppliers are urged to work collaboratively to drive large-scale impacts along the processing stage and avoid duplication of efforts. We encourage industry leaders to work closely with supply chain partners by identifying and tracking water and energy consumption and chemical pollution in the processing stages to create industry-wide baselines and identify hotspots to inform key opportunities for intervention that focus the industry’s resources effectively and efficiently. A substantial focus for all industry players must include a re-evaluation of the usage of natural resources such as water or virgin raw materials. Companies should then implement and scale efficiency programmes and renewable energy sources in collaboration with manufacturers, industry initiatives and their peers that reduce the consumption of all three resources and minimise pollution in processing stages. While reducing the consumption of chemicals, companies should also leverage supply chain relationships to drive the substitution of hazardous chemicals with less harmful alternatives. Investing and implementing sustainable water management is a crucial step to mitigate water scarcity, protect biodiversity and provide safe drinking water and sanitation for producing communities.

Frontrunners should review their progress to date and implement measures to increase the efficient use of resources throughout the whole value chain, from the sourcing of raw materials to retail and consumer use, in order to reduce their environmental footprint further. In addition, they should work with other players along their value chain to drive innovation and implement programmes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. by switching to renewable energy resources, promoting land restoration or investing in sustainable land management practices. They should also support regenerative agriculture practices that can help restore soil and contribute to decarbonising the planet. It is estimated that 30% of the need for climate action can be met through nature-based solutions such as regenerative agriculture.65 Thus, the fashion industry needs to embrace more comprehensive systemic change and scale up low-carbon and nature-based solutions. Setting science-based targets in the areas of climate and biodiversity can support companies in understanding impact areas and taking targeted action.

Governments and financial institutions play a critical role in advancing these transitions by providing supportive legal frameworks and incentive structures, as are supranational initiatives such as the United Nation´s Fashion Industry Charter on Climate Action that was launched at COP24 bringing brands together to work on achieving net-zero emissions in the sector by 2050.66




Through its  Clean by Design approach, the Apparel Impact Institute (Aii) works with more than      30 multinational apparel retailers and fashion brands to implement and scale efficiency programmes in factories. This is a critical step on the 9-year pathway to reach science-based targets and reduce carbon by 45% by 2030. By adopting the Clean by Design 10-best practices methodology, a manufacturer has the potential to reduce energy usage by 10% and reduce water usage by 20% —     saving roughly $400K each year after payback and therefore presenting a solid financial and environmental business case for the industry. Since 2011, the programme has led to a GHG emission reduction of 380,000 tonnes and water reduction of 12,000,000 cubic metres, with Aii programmes now set to expand to renewables and coal elimination. Examples of best-practice activities include improving insulation, maintaining heat traps, and cooling-water reuse.


Since piloting Clean by Design’s first programme in 2011, U.S retailer Target Corp. has implemented four Clean by Design programmes running across 27 of its mill facilities and focused on energy and water efficiency for its Tier 2 operations. As many different brands work with the same facilities and services throughout the fashion supply chain, Target recognises the need to continue scaling Clean by Design through a collective approach with its peers. As a result, when one company invests in supply chain efficiency, other stakeholders in the industry can benefit.

The Clean by Design framework can be implemented by facilities of all sizes, types and locations, providing a continuous improvement framework to meet company-specific goals within production efficiency. To learn more about Clean by Design contact: info@apparelimpact.org


The material mix is one of the biggest drivers of a fashion brand’s environmental footprint and comes with implications for climate change, waste and biodiversity. Across segments it can determine up to two thirds of a brand’s impact on water, energy and land use, as well as its air emissions and waste.67 The choice of materials has to be assessed holistically with social implications and the intended use and end of use of a product in mind, including its ability to be recovered, reused or recycled back into a quality product. While comparing impacts across fibres is important, it is also relevant to understand the properties of each individual fibre and replace it with a preferred option.

At first sight, natural fibres appear superior from a sustainability perspective. Natural plant fibres, such as cotton, are renewable and biodegradable, under the right conditions. Based on local conditions as well as practices in water stewardship, conventional cotton production can be a driver of water consumption in the supply chain.

Natural animal fibres, such as wool, leather, down and silk offer unique qualities, but their production can entail force feeding, live plucking and unethical slaughtering practices, while the rising number of vegetarian and vegan consumers strengthens the business case to protect animal welfare.68 Animal farming can have a large environmental impact because of its land use and climate effects.69 For leather production, the heavy use of chemicals for tanning is particularly hazardous.70

So, what about synthetic alternatives? Some man-made fibres look promising: fibres such as polyester typically require less water than natural fibres, are often highly durable and can be more easily recycled. Still, most existing synthetic fibres are not biodegradable and rely on fossil fuels and chemicals for production. When laundered many synthetic fibres shed micro fibres that account for up to 35% of microplastic pollution in the oceans.71 However, much more research is needed on this topic across fibre groups and the true extend of the impact is still unknown.


Deciphering the environmental, social and ethical impact of raw materials remains a complex undertaking. The picture is muddled further by the diversity of calculation methods applied. There is a general lack of data on the environmental impact across all fibre types and debates on how to weigh the different trade-offs within existing fibres remain. It will take a major innovation push to improve existing materials and to develop new materials that are less resource intensive. When developing new fibres and solutions, their potential to be circulated back into the fashion cycle has to be considered.

Recent years have seen encouraging developments around a more sustainable material mix in collections,72 a heightened focus on recycled materials and emphasis on creative innovation for the development of more sustainable materials. There are new fibres including those made from, e.g. agricultural and food waste or wood pulp. Yet, a number of these, if scaled, could come with similar impacts as conventional materials in which the process of monocropping could further soil depletion.73, 74 In addition, bio-synthetics are gaining stronger traction due to the use of renewable resources and potential to mitigate climate change compared to petroleum-based counterparts. In the long run, the use of biosynthetic fibres can also reduce risks associated with oil price instability.75

A rising number of companies and local governments have taken a stronger stance on fur, implementing more stringent standards on animal welfare. Nevertheless, much more must be done to raise industry standards to ensure that no animals suffer in the production of fashion.

The issue of microplastic pollution has risen on the industry’s agenda, drawing increased attention from brands, regulators, media and academics. Interest in innovation to mitigate the release of micro fibres through sustainable materials has increased. While some collaborative efforts and policy measures76 are underway, industry implementation of advances is needed to accelerate large-scale change.


We encourage fashion industry leaders to trace and evaluate the environmental and social impact of the materials they use and to shift their material mix towards low-impact materials. Therefore, the common use of industry-wide standards is crucial to enable joint definitions and targeted actions. Ongoing efforts of the EU in collaboration with value chain representatives aims to develop a common methodology for accessing the environmental footprint of apparel and footwear production in the framework of the Technical Secretariat for the European Commission’s Product Environmental Footprint project expected to reach results in 2022.77

Companies must be aware of trade-offs since purely switching their materials mix will not solve all environmental or social issues. Brands need to move away from the reliance on one fibre, instead considering fibres as a diverse array of properties that can suit multiple applications. Moving away from mono-cropping towards diversified fibre usage will help rebuild soil health and natural biodiversity.78, 79

As a whole, especially brands relying on natural fibres need to consider switching from harmful to less harmful materials and to look to regenerative agricultural practices which seek to restore the nutrients and carbon-capture capabilities of soil. Industry players together with relevant stakeholders play an integral part in stimulating the supply of more sustainable materials.

Frontrunners should work collaboratively with raw material suppliers, manufacturers, researchers and industry associations to reduce the negative effects of the current production of existing fibres and further develop the implementation of industry standards for animal welfare. Brands leading the way are encouraged to invest in regenerative agriculture80 and utilise traceability tools to enhance their understanding of the potential ramifications for climate, circularity and biodiversity, illuminating consequences such as deforestation and pollution.


Textile Exchange


Millions of people – fibre farmers, foresters, waste collectors, polymer engineers, other textile feedstock providers and their communities – form the base of the textile supply network and are impacted by the decisions brands and retailers make every day. Influencing improvements in fibre and material production is one of the greatest contributions textile companies can make to ensure future prosperity for the people and the environment connected to fashion’s supply chain.

To support the industry’s progress towards more sustainable material sourcing, align with global efforts and transition to a circular economy, Textile Exchange launched its Corporate Fibre & Materials Benchmark (CFMB) programme. Through the CFMB programme, companies demonstrate a commitment to transparency and continuous improvement around their materials sourcing strategy.

The programme’s framework follows a systematic approach to integrating preferred fibres and materials into participating companies’ business strategies. It covers areas of commitment and target setting, tracking progress, measuring impact and transitioning to more circular materials. So far, over 190 companies (including subsidiaries) voluntarily participated in this year’s programme, including iconic fashion, home and sports brands such as: C&A, Tchibo, Nike, Patagonia, H&M, Gap, Gucci, Ikea, Target, New Balance, Adidas and Burberry; making it the largest peer-to-peer comparison initiative in the textile industry.

A key component of the CFMB programme – the Material Change Index (MCI) which was first launched in 2019 – tracks industry progress towards preferred material uptake across various material categories. MCI has already achieved a score increase average of 17% with uptake of preferred materials now accounting for 44% of the Index portfolio.

To be eligible for the CFMB programme you must be a brand, retailer, or supplier of textile products. To start your benchmarking journey, register to the CFMB Portal.



With the Fashion CEO Agenda, we seek to frame the conversation about sustainability and to encourage fashion industry leaders to take action. Fashion brand executives are the primary target audience because their decisions can drive change and, ultimately, affect the entire value chain.

For the first time, the Fashion CEO Agenda puts forward a vision statement for the fashion industry that highlights the imperative need for the coexistence of environmental and social sustainability as neither can be achieved without the other. With this vision, we aim for human equality and well-being to take centre stage based on values that encompass fairness, compassion and empathy.

At the heart of the CEO Agenda, the most crucial environmental and social sustainability priorities offer clear guidance on where to focus efforts.

Internal enablers outline the foundations that need to be in place internally to support executives working towards ambitious sustainability strategies while external enablers call for collaborative action with external parties.

We hope that the Fashion CEO Agenda will provide guidance in taking strategic action on sustainability.
The Fashion CEO Agenda reflects a shared belief by Global Fashion Agenda and its Strategic Partners that the vision statement and priorities presented are the most important current opportunities for the industry to tackle together.

Strategic Partners