Social Life Cycle Assessment in the Textile Industry: a case study in a small company

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för geovetenskaper

Abstract: Investigations of the textile industry and apparel sector often reveal unethical behaviours towards workers and lack of transparency in the value chain.  As consumers are getting more conscious and the external pressure and demand for more sustainable clothing increases, companies need to implement management systems to control their operations and ensure actions are socially responsible. The Social Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA) methodology published by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2009 are suggested to measure positive and negative social impacts on stakeholders along a products entire life cycle, from cradle to grave. The methodology is still under development and no methods have yet been standardized or internationally recognized.   To contribute to the development of the S-LCA and its practical use in real world situations, the present study aims to evaluate the applicability of existing methodologies and tools by applying them to a cotton shirt from a small company in Sweden. The case study was performed by conducting an S-LCA following the four phases: Goal and scope; Life Cycle Inventory; Life Cycle Impact Assessment and; Life Cycle Interpretation. Generic country-level data and organisation specific data were collected through questionnaires, document review and desktop screening, while two different assessment tools were tested for the different data types. For generic country-level data, a Social Hotspot Assessment framework developed for this study, was applied and evaluated. For organisation specific data the existing Subcategory Assessment Method (SAM) was subject for feasibility evaluation.   The S-LCA conduction involved several application issues that affect the perceived applicability and feasibility of the methods. Problems identified relate to the definition of system boundaries and uncertainties in the choice of appropriate and relevant indicators. The major problems refer to data collection both in terms of availability and quality issues both with regards to the inventory and assessment phase. Further, in the assessment and interpretation phase uncertainties regarding assessment criteria’s and aggregation of results evolved when using the framework for identifying hotspots, affecting the reliability of the results.   Despite the identified issues, it is evident that it is possible to conduct and finalise a Social Hotspot Assessment using the methodology. However, based on the reliability issues of the results and the effort it requires, it is concluded that the applied framework is not feasible for smaller clothing companies with limited resources. The assessment of organisation specific data by applying SAM, is considered incomplete and identified issues reflect the incompatibility of the method and are thus not considered applicable or feasible for smaller companies.

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