Background Clothing sales have risen dramatically in recent years, thanks to several trends that appear likely to continue. It was reported that the global demand for clothing looks set to increase significantly over the coming decade as millions of people in developing countries enter the middle class and spend more on apparel. It also seems the demand for fast fashion will only continue to grow (Remy et al. 2016). This is further supported by a new research from Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy, one in eight younger consumers (18 to 24 year olds) shopping every week and buying a fashion item at least once a fortnight (Accenture 2017). Clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014, and the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer increased by 60 percent. Fast fashion has been a particularly hot segment and a source of enviable growth for some clothing companies (Remy et al. 2016). The process of making a piece of clothing involves multiple suppliers across the supply chain in the following processes including: farmers who grow the raw materials; ginners receive cotton from multiple growers and sell to the global market through traders; spinners use cotton from a variety of origins to produce yarn and fabric mills produce cloth. The manufacturing process begins which involves cutting, sewing, trimming, embroidery, orienting, and washing. Next, the manufacturers ship the garments wholesale to the brand that placed the orders who distributes garments globally to retail and online stores (Human Rights Watch 2017). At the end of its life, the apparel/garments may either be recycled or discarded and go to landfill. The manufacturing usually involves multiple suppliers in a very complex supply chain, which reduces transparency and visibility along the complex value chain. Brands therefore are not aware of what happen at their suppliers’ business along the supply chain. Brands also do not typically deal directly with all those suppliers, and many do not bother to dig deep into their supply chains (Gunther 2016). On the other hand, consumers are, attracted by the low cost and constantly update product ranges with new styles and designs. Consumers are buying these clothes much more often and in greater quantities, but often wearing them only a handful of times before discarding them. This fast-fashion industry and ecosystem consumes large amounts of natural resources in the production, which ultimately accelerating carbon emissions and global warming. The industry has also been linked to a number of cases of worker abuses in countries producing the garments. The workers were underpaid and exposed to unsafe and poor workplace conditions, particularly when handling materials like cotton and leather that require extensive processing (Remy et al. 2016). One example is the disaster at Rana Plaza, which is one of the deadliest accidents in the fashion industry happened on 24th April 2013. (The Economist 4th May 2013). Over 1,130 people were killed and 2,500 more were injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was reported that people crushed under those eight floors were working for dozens of familiar multinational brands and retailers. It is ‘one of the many negligent accidents that plague the garment industry’ (Fashion Revolution CIC 2015, p.4). 2 Assignment Tasks Assume you are a newly appointed accountant in a local fashion company -RTXM Clothing Company (RTXM) – based in Melbourne, Australia. This is a private family business with 20 shareholders. Currently, the company has seven different departments, include Accounting and Finance, R&D (product design and development), Salesand Marketing, Human Resources, Information Technology, Distribution and Logistics, and Merchandising, with a total of 130 employees. Managers in each department are given the authority regarding operational decisions and their performance is measured based on the company’s profit, and all the other employees receive the fixed salary package. The company pays taxes to Australia Taxation Office (ATO) on a regular basis. Originally, the business offered only t-shirts and jeans. As the business was trying to join the growing fast fashion industry, it expanded its product lines to include dress, trousers, shorts, hoodies & sweats, socks, shoes, and bags. The objective was to provide a wide selection of product lines in order to reach more fashion conscious consumers. A characteristic of them market is consumers are mainly attracted by low price, and frequent new styles and designs, so the company also seeks to find the suppliers with low prices. The business has retail stores in the major city across Australia and online store. Since the company expanded its product line, managers from different departments found the number of complaints received from customers have tripled. Most complaints are related to the product quality (products are either defective or damaged), items consistently out of stock, online shopping experience (delivery of wrong items and long response time to emails), and in-store experience (lack of attention from sales representatives), and some customers have posted complaints on RTXM social media. In order to enhance the overall performance, the company is considering using a range of key performance indicators in managing its performance. This is to ensure that the company keeps track of its performance and to achieve the objectives they set for the identified issues. In addition, the CEO and senior management decide to find new suppliers to improve the product quality, however, they encountered a dilemma. On the one hand, they found a supplier in Bangladesh, Super Cheap who can provide a large range of products to fit in their business expansion plan with a competitive price and all products can be supplied in a short time frame. However, after a careful investigation into this company’s background, they found this supplier has a major issue with labor conditions throughout their supply chains, including the use of child labor, low wages, and health and safety hazards, and long working hours. In terms of the environmental aspect, Super Cheap consumes a few thousand litres of water to produce a cotton t-shirt and over ten-thousand litres to produce a pair of jeans, and wastewater discharge into the local river, and it did not take any action to solve this issue. The polluted water is no longer fit for drinking or laundry, fishes no longer exist in this river, and local residences complain that their homes are flooded by dirty water. On the other hand, RTXM has another potential supplier, called Green Fashion, who only provides limited product range with a higher price, and products can be supplied in a reasonable time frame. However, Green Fashion takes account of sustainability and makes it as part of their business, and their sustainability agenda has been presented on its website, 3 including fashion designs that is kind to the environment, they also ethically source materials and labour, promote work-life balance of the employee in the retail business, and provide incentives to their local and outsourcing partners and their employees if their targets are met. The CEO and management of RTXM learnt that Green Fashion has very similar values and sustainability agenda. RTXM considers sustainability as part of the business. It is reported on their websites that the company wants to rethink fashion designs so that they are kind to the environment, to ethically source materials and labour, promote work-life balance of the employee in the retail business, and provide incentives to their local and outsourcing partners and their employees if their targets are met.
4. After your analysis above, the CEO starts realizing the importance of working with social and environmental friendly suppliers, however, still does not have a comprehensive understanding to the positive and negative impact his company’s products might have both socially and environmentally. You decide to use the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for a product that the company offers to enhance their understanding. Draw the LCA, and select one or two stages of the LCA, identifying a total of four possible social and environment impacts. If the impact is detrimental either socially or environmentally, give suggestions to minimize the impact. If the impact is positive, give suggestions as to maximize the benefit. You are required to undertake some research to answer this question.