Quality Education Across the Fashion Supply Chain
SDG #4: Quality Education
The great Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Undoubtedly, humankind’s greatest advancements are attributed to a strong educational foundation. Learning satisfies the human thirst for knowledge, while simultaneously driving sustainable growth, innovation, and prosperity. It is thus no surprise that the United Nations considers Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 --Quality Education-- the golden thread that runs through all 17 SDGs (Opening of the SDG High-Level Action Event on Education, 2017).
Regardless, harrowing statistics underscore education’s vast inequalities globally. In 35 out of 75 countries, 25% of the most impoverished young women are illiterate. In 39 out of 99 countries, fewer than 50% of the poorest children have completed primary school. Despite progress made in recent years, children from marginalized groups face increasing obstacles in accessing, attending, and finishing primary school (Education Inequalities n.d.).
In combating these disparities, SDG #4’s 2030 targets adhere to equity for all. Among these ambitious objectives are universal literacy and numeracy, free access to K-12 education, along with equal and affordable access to technical, vocational, and higher education. In reshaping the current paradigm, this goal emphasizes awareness on sustainable development and global citizenship (Quality Education n.d.).
Quality Education Across the Fashion Supply Chain
With its enormous and complex supply chains, the textile industry is one wherein the majority of humanity is a stakeholder. Given its giant reach, fashion has a virtually unmatched opportunity to systematically carry out Quality Education’s principles--encompassing corporate employees, the sourcing and manufacturing communities, all the way through to the consumer.
Advancing knowledge from within, companies can enable their workforces to open a dialogue around sustainable industry practices. A notable example is Gap Inc., which set a new standard for mass-market retail when it aligned its sustainability framework with the SDG agenda shortly after its 2015 release. In doing so, its subsidiaries launched executive steering-committees to lead cross-functional sustainability strategy workshops (Truscott 2020). Similarly, smaller organizations can take suit in collaborating internally, establishing working groups to define sustainability priorities and metrics to uphold accountability.
Arguably, retailers have the largest gaps to bridge when it comes to advancing quality education in manufacturing hubs. Regarding child labour, 170 million under age 18 are involved in textile and garment-making, hindering their education access (The Guardian n.d.). One way brands can start to break the cycle of child labour is through investing in basic training and development. In capacity-building for a future workforce, organizations can first examine their own labor market competencies to design and implement targeted training programs (Huibrechtse-Truijens 2020). Retailers can also cultivate business partnerships with government and educational entities in the respective manufacturing and sourcing communities. Liaising with such institutions can scale basic education, and can even upskill workers to earn specialized degrees in subjects like engineering, tech, fiber science, and management (Textile Exchange – SDGS n.d.). Adding to this great potential is the rise of EdTech tools, rendering equitable access to infinite learning resources and degree-seeking opportunities.
Increasing industry skills and knowledge has the potential to break the cycle of poverty, thereby transforming future generations and economic growth. Over time, a higher educated workforce generally equates to higher wages, and ultimately a society with a greater disposable income. Statistics demonstrate that just one additional school year can increase a woman’s earnings by 10% to 20%, which can pay for quality childcare and children’s tuition (Huibrechtse-Truijens, 2020). In a world where over 80% of garment workers are females between the ages of 18-25, having financial power can also increase leadership and autonomy in their own communities (Castiel 2016).
When it comes to today’s consumers, fashion and education are at an ever-critical juncture. As Lucie Brigham, Chief of Office in the UN Office for Partnerships states, “Fashion is a great platform […] to engage the creative industry to help us educate customers” (Cernansky 2020). The internet has given rise to an unprecedented level of insight into how apparel is made-- rather, the wasteful manufacturing and the reduced clothing lifecycles characterizing “fast” fashion. It’s no coincidence then that demand for sustainable fashion is on the rise, engendering a shift in consumer behavior desiring more clarity around clothing production and ethics (Berg et al.). In adhering to this trend, brands should continue pushing the envelope around conscious consumption. Companies can use their products and reach as a platform to educate customers on ethical sourcing and buying decisions, in addition to providing alternatives to mend and preserve their own clothing adding to the longevity of a garment. The convoluted supply chain networks render this process quite slow, yet many brands who wish to opt for sustainability can go in this route.
Hecho x Nosotros’ Commitment to Quality Education
Reimagining a more transparent textile industry has been Hecho x Nosotros’ (HxN) mission and vision since 2008. Its virtual platform aims to overhaul the industry’s current social and environmental standards, particularly in Latin America. Utilizing an education-first approach, the organization partners with international and academic organizations to exchange information around ethically sourcing camelid fibers in the region. Currently, HxN is researching and applying blockchain technology to create knowledge networks, providing users with information on the origin and process of each product. Doing so empowers consumers to be more conscientious in choosing natural fibers that in turn contribute to the development of autonomous, educated and healthy Andean communities. Adhering to circular principles throughout, HxN continues to establish a new benchmark for the fashion industry.
Author: Kristen Tadrous
Editor: Hailey Matarese HxN Collaborator
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