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Organizational Change
Clothing Companies Going Beyond Compliance with Better Mill Initiative

By creating an enabling environment to establish novel internal-management systems, Solidaridad's Better Mill Initiative has equipped textile-factory managers and workers to improve working conditions and livelihoods, and reduce the environmental impact of the factories.

This post is part of a series written by MBA and MPA candidates in Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course, examining the role of communication in advancing sustainability across all sectors.

China’s thick haze and severe water pollution have led to increased public awareness of environmental issues in recent years, and Greenpeace’s Detox campaign has exposed links between Chinese textile manufacturing facilities and pollution of local waterways.

In response, multinational retail clothing companies H&M, Primark and C&A have made commitments to cleaner production and are taking action through investing in suppliers. By addressing a root cause of environmental pollution — factories and mills — these brands are making the pivot towards internalizing externalities. Together with third-party partner Solidaridad, the Better Mill Initiative is helping these brands create a healthier and more profitable textile sector. The measurable impact of this initiative demonstrates the authenticity of their public commitments to “detox.”

In the corporate sustainability journey, the resiliency and transparency of supply chains has become paramount. But one of the biggest obstacles has been a lack of direct communication between brands and their second-tier suppliers. The sector has learned that attempting to enforce sustainability commitments on suppliers through audits is inadequate — if factory managers and workers are not brought along through technical training and capacity-building, there is little hope for significant improvement. It is a notable shift in supply chain management to engage factories and mills with a voluntary approach to encourage environmental and social performance.

H&M made this long-term investment in its supply chain by piloting a cleaner production program with Solidaridad to establish new industry benchmarks, among Chinese factories specializing in printing and dyeing. The program provided a platform for participating factories to exchange their ideas on innovation and address common problems. Through the introduction of new technologies and practices, the program created a collaborative environment for the managers and brand to cut water use, pollution, energy waste and reduce costs.

Now the Better Mill Initiative is building on the pilot program with success factors in social, environmental and economic spheres. With Solidaridad providing training courses to factory managers on communication and awareness, it has opened a dialogue between the factories and brands on social issues. As a result, workers are now rewarded for their contributions to water, energy and raw material reductions, which in turns saves production costs for the mills. By creating an enabling environment to establish novel internal management systems, it has equipped managers and workers to improve working conditions and livelihoods, as well as reduce the environmental impact of the factories.

Through these successes, the brands and factories are starting to rethink cleaner production as integral to their business and even as profitable. The Better Mill Initiative has gone beyond compliance to strengthen textile supply chains through engagement and increased competitiveness. Together H&M, Primark, C&A and Solidaridad are achieving a mutual understanding between brands and factories, and rebuilding public confidence in the sector.