Moving Towards Responsible Purchasing Practices in the Fashion Industry

The fashion industry is notorious for the negative impact that it has on the environment and on society. From exploiting labour rights to polluting water bodies, the industry has a long way to go to become sustainable.  To move towards a sustainable garment industry, several building blocks need to be put in place, and one of them is changing the power relationship between buyers and suppliers, and ensuring responsible purchasing practices are in place.

 More often than not, responsibility for improving purchasing practices is left to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) teams of brands and retailers.  However, this flawed approach is doomed to fail, because what is required is a joint effort between leadership teams, commercial teams, and CSR teams.  Often, CSR/Sustainability teams struggle to get enough attention for the topic, align KPIs, and ensure that the company is in a position to make real and meaningful changes.  This is a lost opportunity. 

 Implementing responsible purchasing practices not only benefits the environment and society, but it can also benefit the company's bottom line.  By working closely with suppliers to improve their sustainability practices, companies can reduce the risk of negative publicity or legal consequences due to unethical practices.  In addition, by implementing sustainable sourcing practices, companies can improve the resilience of their supply chains, reduce waste, and increase efficiency. Sustainable sourcing can also lead to cost savings, as suppliers with better sustainability practices tend to have lower production costs in the long run.

 Today’s consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable and ethical products, and implementing responsible purchasing practices can help companies stay competitive and meet customer expectations. 

 It is crucial to understand that responsible purchasing is not a one-time task but requires a continuous effort to build and maintain sustainable purchasing practices.

 In order to move towards responsible purchasing practices, supplier voice is critical.  It is important not only when providing feedback on purchasing practices but also in designing solutions together and examining whether these solutions are having the have desired effect and impact.  Involving suppliers will help organisations to gain insights into the supplier's sustainability practices and how they are managing  labour rights and environmental impacts.  This information can help brands and retailers to make more informed decisions regarding the best suppliers to work with, and how they can help suppliers improve their practices.

 Organisations must have a real understanding of their own purchasing practices and assess these with the support of suppliers, Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) sources, and appropriate external stakeholders.  The assessment should look into areas including labour rights, environmental impact, and supplier diversity.  Based on the assessment, organisations should plan and execute improvements in collaboration with suppliers.  This can include setting KPIs for suppliers, requiring regular reporting on sustainability practices, and providing support to help suppliers improve their practices.  These steps are the essential building blocks required in order to begin the transition towards improved purchasing practices.

 Moving towards responsible purchasing practices is critical to building an ethical and sustainable fashion industry.  The industry has been grappling with sustainability and ethical issues for a long time, but there is hope on the horizon.  With increasing awareness and demand for sustainable and ethical fashion, there is a growing momentum towards responsible purchasing practices.  With the commitment and joint efforts of the leadership teams, commercial teams, and CSR teams of brands and retailers, and by working closely with suppliers, companies can make significant progress towards building a more ethical and sustainable industry.  Moreover, adopting responsible purchasing practices not only benefits the environment and society but also offers cost savings and helps companies stay competitive.  As the industry moves towards more responsible purchasing practices, we can look forward to a brighter future where fashion is not just a symbol of style, but also of sustainability and social responsibility.

The MSI Working Group on Responsible Purchasing Practices, which includes representatives from the ETI, Ethical Trade Norway, Fair Wear, the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (PST) and the Dutch Agreement for Sustainable Garments (AGT/NGA), has collated a summary of training that is available to companies on the topic of Responsible Purchasing Practices (RPP).

 It can be downloaded here: