How to Make Asia’s Textile and Apparel Sector More Sustainable

Textile cloth factory working process tailoring workers equipment

Current practices and consumption behaviour in the textile and apparel sector are causing environmental and social issues. To address action gaps regarding sustainable consumption and production in Southeast and Central Asia, adelphi has published an extensive report.


A growing global middle class increases demand for textiles and clothes. The “take-make-dispose” system of modern fashion production and consumption, however, is continuously creating environmental stress and social problems for workers. Several production stages cause concern: growing cotton is associated with the heavy use of fertilisers and a high consumption of water and energy for growing cotton; textile processing produces industrial wastewater and hazardous waste. Unsafe and unfair working conditions are often prevalent. At the usage stage, high amounts of energy and water consumption as well as the release of ecotoxic materials from detergents raise issues. 

There’s progress – and there are questions

Many of the most relevant production and emerging consumption countries in Asia have made progress on some aspects of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). Still, a lot of work remains to be done: To ensure an effective transition towards sustainable development, these countries require higher innovation in production systems as well as actionable policy and market instruments. Whereas Western markets have until recently been the major consumers and targets for fast fashion products, growing Asian middle classes have created new markets that need to adopt more responsible consumption patterns.

The SCP Facility as part of the SWITCH-Asia Programme has the mandate to strengthen the implementation of SCP policies at the national and sub-national levels by raising awareness as well as scaling up good practice examples. The facility therefore commissioned a study on finding potential entry points for advancing SCP in 16 Asian target countries. The main objective of this study was to define the challenges and identify the actions required in each country, in order to specify priority areas for regional programs regarding SCP for the textile, apparel and leather sector.

Thorough research paints a detailed picture

The project team conducted extensive desk research as well as interviews with stakeholder representatives in the target countries. As a result, it developed detailed country profiles covering eleven Southeast Asian and five Central Asian nations which provided information on the four priority themes: SCP policy, ecolabelling, green procurement and sustainable SMEs. The analysis of current issues in the textile sector covered natural and synthetic fibre processing, finishing as well as apparel manufacturing. In a few countries, this scope was expanded to also include materials such as leather, silk and wool as well as footwear manufacturing. The scope and depth of these country profiles make them a vital resource and decision-making support for the SCP Facility’s next steps in this area.

The authors of the study suggest starting with the development of an enabling SCP framework that supports greening the supply chain and SME participation. A criteria catalogue for eco-labelling improves transparency and allows for consumer agency. Further SCP related activities can then build onto the study’s findings by targeting the action gaps identified in each country and include relevant stakeholders such as policymakers, industry actors, brands, research institutions, NGOs and consumer associations to ensure an effective and holistic future working process. 

You can find more information on the Switch-Asia website.

Contact persons: Jürgen Hannak, Jana Hack, Franziska Sophie Kohler.