Systemic Changes for a Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain - Exploring the Supplier Perspective
Abstract: The Covid-19 pandemic has caused detrimental disruptions within the fashion industry. The effects have rippled through fashion supply chains, yet the majority of the impact has been felt by vulnerable suppliers and workers at the bottom of the pile, highlighting critical systemic issues that have existed in the fashion industry for decades. Business relationships and buying practices in the fashion industry are heavily in favour of brands and wholesalers, leaving suppliers struggling to survive with little financial security in a highly competitive business environment. The purpose of this study, after reviewing previous research about key characteristics of fashion supply chains and sustainable supply chain management concepts, is to first understand the current supply chain and the existing practices and issues within it, to then enable the investigation of the long-term systemic changes required which could contribute to the reform of fashion supply chain practices going forward. This research focuses on the under-represented perspective of suppliers, and the social issues existing within fashion supply chains. Qualitative methods are used for data collection and analysis, interviews were conducted with fashion professionals in the supply chain and relevant documents detailing the impacts of the virus and sustainable supply chain practices were also analysed. In this study, it is found that the power imbalance in fashion supply chains is the root cause of the majority of issues experienced by suppliers, such as biased buying practices, unfair payment terms, and prejudiced approaches to communication, which ultimately leads to the exploitation of workers. A partnership approach is required for buyer supplier relationships, through improving collaboration and communication efforts. Transparency practice needs to be developed to encompass social issues with supply chain, with an increased focus on brand accountability. Mass education of sustainability issues with the support of enhanced governmental legislation are deducted as key facilitators of sustainable development of the fashion industry going forward. Further research is required to understand the supplier side of the fashion supply chain more extensively and further study should also be undertaken to develop existing sustainable supply chain practices to be more applicable to supplier issues upstream in the fashion supply chain.
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