The apparel industry is one of the world’s largest industries, generating around €1.5 trillion in annual revenues and employing over 50 million people. Though often a catalyst for economic growth in largely agrarian economies transitioning into industrial production, the apparel sector is also responsible for high environmental impacts and social challenges such as cheap labor, and exploitative, unsafe and polluting factories. IDH operates in China, Vietnam, Pakistan and India to address these challenges

Impact Focus

  • Living Wage and Improved Working Conditions
    More info
  • Gender Equality and Empowerment

Market Transformation

The apparel sector is often characterized by a “race to the bottom”, and IDH aims to revert this to achieve industry-wide transformation in terms of harmonization, sustainability and working conditions. In 2017, IDH developed the Life and Building Safety Initiative (LABS) to improve working conditions in terms of occupational health and safety (OHS). From the start, seven brands and retailers have joined. In the pilot and expansion stages in 2018 and 2019, they will apply and monitor harmonized life and building safety standards to avoid disasters like Rana Plaza and improve working conditions. In Vietnam, IDH focuses on empowering workers and improving the dialogue between workers and management in the Race to the Top (RTTT) program. This results in both improved working conditions and higher productivity. In 2018 this program will be expanded. Moreover, IDH has played an important role in levelling the playing field for sustainable businesses, by showcasing business cases that reduce energy and water consumption, for example as a part of the Enterprise Improvement project of the Pakistan Buyers Forum, and in the Vietnamese mill improvement program. Another way that IDH enables an environment for change is through making it possible to scale up the services developed. This is realized through scaling mechanisms that support the flow of additional investment capital into the sector, especially through the Apparel Impact Institute and Fashion for Good.

KPI Progress 2016

  • Change in Business Practice - Private Sector Investments

    Target 2020 2
    Target 2017 2
    Results 2017 1
    Multiple brands (6 in 2016) committed to work with IDH on the creation and adoption of a common framework and harmonized reference standard and assessment protocol for building safety, related to structural, electrical, and fire safety.
  • Change in Sector Governance - Satisfaction about the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder processes

    Results 2017 8
    IDH worked with the Vietnamese government to lead the industry away from using and discharging hazardous chemicals. In the RTTT program, we bring together brands, public representatives, sector associations and CSOs to learn about and address sustainability issues in the sector, and to identify solutions and recommendations to develop a more sustainable Vietnamese apparel sector. IDH took the lead in coordination with local authorities including the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE), Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) and Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA). The platform has helped identify opportunities for scaling best practices as well as informing policy around cleaner production. Also, together with the Leather and Footwear Association (LEFASO), we provided support for sustainability monitoring and using key metrics from the Higg Index and Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals tools in the Vietnamese footwear industry. These activities are part of a newly created framework, which will be extended to the full membership of LEFASO (approximately 200 factories).
  • Field Level Sustainability - Number of producers/workers/ community members trained

    Target 2020 50
    Target 2017 30
    Results 2017 62
    The mill improvement program, one of the components of the Race to the Top program, includes projects around energy wfficiency, air emissions and wastewater effluent treatment for textile mills and laundries. The participating mills reported huge savings in water, electricity, coal,wood and natural gas used. On average, these sustainability investments have a return on investment of 1.5 years. As part of all IDH apparel programs, some 46,312 women and 15,270 men have been trained on key environmental and occupational health and safety subjects. The type of environmental training they received was on worker engagement, lean productivity, and cleaner production. We’ve seen that 100% of the production facilities adopted best practices after going through training. Implementing a well-functioning improvement circle and optimizing worker engagement and processes have enabled these facilities to reduce their rework rates.


On average sustainability investments have a return on investment of 1.5 years.”

Sibbe Krol, Program Manager Apparel

Relevant SDGs

  • 8 Decent Work & Economic Growth
  • 12 Responsible Consumption

Gender Focus

In the apparel industry, where women make up more than two-thirds of the workforce, we encourage the participation of both women and men in training activities and representative roles through practical action. We measure male and female attendance during trainings, we ask gender-related questions in baseline assessments, and inform factory management about the importance of gender issues.

Lessons Learned

Expanding safety work
The Bangladesh apparel industry is not alone in its various hazardous working environments. In terms of OHS issues in the industry, the need for building safety work outside of Bangladesh is significant. Issues vary widely: structural issues are far less common, though fire and electrical safety issues are found across the entire industry, presenting a danger to the safety of workers. Luckily, the sector itself is becoming more and more aware of the issues.

Government approaches
The increasingly strong role adopted by governments and international organizations in pressing for supply chain sustainability for apparel is both a risk and an opportunity. Though a catalyst for action, the
differences in approaches (German, Dutch, Danish, UK, EU, and OECD platforms and legislation) make the industry cautious to engage.

Select an option...
World map
Sectors: Apparel
Sectors: Apparel
Sectors: Apparel

Our Partners