The Sweet Sixteen – 16 Structural Solutions for Cleaner Leather and Textile Sectors

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Soumyajit Kar, Programme Officer, International Trade Centre

This article summarizes the findings of the 2021 SITA report Going for Green, aimed at instituting sustainable value chains in the East African leather and textile sector. The 16 actionable recommendations can help policymakers address environmental compliance in these key sectors in a comprehensive manner.

SITA’s stakeholder engagement exercises with international buyers, East African suppliers in the fashion value chain, policymakers and international sustainability experts, while contributing towards gauging the bottlenecks to compliance in East Africa, also yielded concise, actionable recommendations. These recommendations are generic to most developing countries and reflect international best practices, especially in countries of the Global South. Special attention was also accorded to the specific constraints faced by East African stakeholders in the industry.

The policy recommendations have been grouped into four buckets, based on the action they entail – physical infrastructure development, changes in regulatory and enforcement environment, creating local technical capacity and awareness, and nurturing an overall enabling environment to encourage environmental compliance.

Physical Infrastructure Development

These recommendations address the infrastructural gaps in countries, which contribute to the difficulties in better treatment of solid waste, wastewater and air emissions. As these entail substantial project outlays, and their benefits in terms of a cleaner environment and higher sector competitiveness accrue to both the society and businesses, such infrastructure development projects should ideally be a collaborative endeavour between the government and the industry. Adequate support from the government is required to ensure that the long-term nature of the undertakings does not thwart access to finance.

  1. Build integrated industrial sites and industrial parks;
  2. Target effluent harmonization through common effluent treatment plants (CETPs);
  3. Certify testing labs and create a monitoring and database management system for industrial waste;
  4. Undertake accreditation and approval of waste disposal sites.
Baby Shoes, Shoes, Footwear, Fashion, Small Shoes
Image by sebagee from Pixabay 

Stronger Regulatory Environment

Complementary to a robust physical infrastructure on better waste and chemical management, strong, consistent regulatory structures provide the much-needed guidance and framework to institutionalize sustainable production. In the fashion sector, it is the international buyers who have driven much of the initial sustainability regulation in countries such as Bangladesh, but ideally, creating regulation should be a joint effort between the government and the private sector. The government’s role is also to respect the local context while legislating on sustainability, while the private sector can add value in reviewing existing government regulation. For example, if utilities such as electricity and water are substantially subsidized by governments, production facilities have little intrinsic incentive to adopt resource efficiency. A good understanding between the government and industry can help address such deficiencies through better regulation, to find a middle path, combining subsidies and resource efficiency.

  1. Create a comprehensive and coherent chemical control system;
  2. Demonstrate legislative commitment to enforce and uphold the sustainability legislation;
  3. Incorporate sustainability considerations while attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) – allow only up-to-date technologies and strictly adhere to international environmental requirements;
  4. Allow multi-stakeholder engagement in drafting national standards and in enforcing them.

Capacity Building and Awareness

Local manufacturers in the leather and textile sectors, as well as policymakers concur on the lack of technical capacity in the industry, to mainstream sustainable production practices. With the global nature of the fashion value chain, capacity constraints and information asymmetries can be easily remedied through targeted capacity building and awareness programmes for East African manufacturers and policymakers. Some international brands facilitate site visits for policymakers and manufacturers wherein they can visit compliant production facilities from the brand’s supply chain to learn sustainability practices and regulation hands-on. For this to work, governments should be open to incorporate elements from efficient regulatory systems. Staff that has already been trained on sustainability should be incentivized to stay, reducing the high turnover rates among trained staff, which render the investments in capacity development untenable. Government policy should also encourage in-house research and development (R&D) on sustainable production to align productivity with easier environmental compliance.

  1. Institute training programmes on sustainability infrastructure and practices for manufacturers and create a national pool of experts;
  2. Institute capacity building exercises for policymakers and sustainability inspectors;
  3. Sensitize local manufacturers on international sustainability guidelines and the business benefits of compliance;
  4. Collaborate with experts and international stakeholders on creating a sustainability curriculum mindful of the local context and constraints.

Creating an Enabling Environment

Instrumental to the success of sustainable value chains in the East African leather and textile sectors is a nurturing ecosystem that combines appropriate policy, regulatory and infrastructural support. This ecosystem must provide incentives to private industry to internalize sustainable production practice, award compliant manufacturers, and make monitoring and enforcement easy and data based.

  1. Provide appropriate financial incentives and ease access to finance;
  2. Build an effective data collection infrastructure that will aid monitoring and evaluation of sustainability efforts and facilities, and inform enforcement;
  3. Earmark expenditure on physical infrastructure for sustainability and prioritize reducing environmental impact in national industrial development plans;
  4. Partner with relevant international initiatives and organizations to provide a support system for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to facilitate greening.

The report is available on the website, on the in-text hyperlinks above. For any other information, contact Soumyajit Kar,

Featured Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

Voices of SITA
Voices of SITA
This blog provides a window into the SITA project. Through stories from India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, this blog showcases the project’s progress and impact.