Research project supports responsible business practices for garment industry

22 May 2024

Garment workers and their employers are taking part in a research project which aims to promote more responsible business practices.

The project, Transforming Responsive and Relational Autonomy in the Garment Sector of the UK and Bangladesh (THRREADS), is seeking to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability in the ready-made garment and fashion sector in Leicester and Bangladesh, and improve autonomy in the workplace. It involves a team of researchers from the University of Derby, University of Essex, Manchester Metropolitan University and Universal College Bangladesh, and is supported by £645,000 funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

At a launch event in Leicester, local employees met with the researchers and representatives of employers and organisations supporting garment workers in the city to discuss the project’s objectives. Over the next three years, the team will develop a Leicester Accord to ensure economic, social and environmental justice in the industry for the workers, employers and other stakeholders. They will work with organisations including the Fashion-workers Advice Bureau Leicester (FAB-L) and Hope for Justice.

The Accord will be modelled on the Bangladesh Accord, which was developed following a factory building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013. Professor Samsul Alam, Professor in Sustainability and Accounting at the University of Derby, who is co-ordinating the University’s involvement in the project, said:

“Although there is still much to be done in Bangladesh to introduce more responsible business practices and to build its reputation, the Accord is an important step in the process and is a good example of what we could achieve in Leicester.”

A group of people gathered in front of a colourful wall
The project team at the launch at the Highfields Centre

Leicester once had a flourishing garment industry, making it the richest city in the UK, but the departure of big fashion brands has impacted heavily on the local economy, with many factories now empty. The sector has been the subject of a number of negative media reports, particularly since the pandemic, on the conditions for its workers. In Bangladesh, while conditions have improved to some extent, workers still receive one of the lowest monthly minimum wages in the world.

Both in Bangladesh and the UK, the sectors experience high demand and pressure from retailers for quick turnaround and cheap products, increasing the pressure placed on workers. While a few initiatives by retailers aimed at enhancing sustainable business practices have emerged in the post-pandemic period, Professor Alam said:

“The pandemic has presented various challenges in the global garment industry. Given their pivotal role in global garment production, retailers should adopt a more proactive approach in addressing these challenges and promoting responsible business practices.”

Dr Shoba Arun from the University of Essex, which is leading on the project, said:

“Despite multifarious pressures and agreements to ensure sustainable and responsive workplaces, the garment and fashion industry, characterised by global supply chains, is often marred by reports of exploitative practices, and simultaneously challenged by the highly changed environment in a post-Covid, post-Brexit context.”

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