How the United Nations’ SDGs Relate to the Fashion Industry

In 2015 all United Nations Member States came together to create a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.” The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, together, create a holistic guide to achieving the UN’s goals. From ending poverty and reducing gender inequality to tackling climate change and reviving biodiversity, the SDGs recognize that the fight for human rights and the fight for the health of our planet must go hand in hand. At Remake we strongly believe that fashion must integrate efforts to protect the environment and the people working throughout supply chains in order to truly be a sustainable industry. Here’s how the SDGs relate to today’s fashion industry.

How the United Nations' SDGs Relate to the Fashion Industry

Goal 5: Gender Equality

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Female empowerment is a trendy discussion topic within the fashion industry right now. From the UN council to conglomerate CEOs, everyone wants to be a part of the “right side of history.” Unfortunately, the data suggests that many aren’t practicing what they preach. The New York Times’ 2018 article “Fashion’s Woman Problem” reported that 85% of graduating fashion design majors were women. Yet, senior management continues to be overwhelmingly controlled by men. And this remains consistent at the other end of the supply chain. Around the world, most factory managers, supervisors and owners are men. Women continue to be excluded from fashion’s collective consciousness even though they are the backbone of the industry. It has been inspiring to see women of influence within the fashion industry share their #metoo stories, shedding light on the pervasive problem at all levels of the industry. 

Furthermore, Remake’s “Made In” docuseries found countless women confirming our fear that low wages, sexual harassment and assault, short-term contracts, and pregnancy discrimination run rampant within the very facilities which produce the clothing on our backs. Why is it that fashion — which benefits from women’s labor, money, and influence — is still largely run by men? 

SDGs Fashion

GOALS 8 & 10: Decent Work and Economic Growth and Reduced Inequalities

“Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

“Reduce inequality within and among countries.”

In many industries, but especially in fashion, the wealth disparity between the women making clothing and the corporations selling said clothing is shocking. Companies must bridge the gap and provide garment workers a fair wage.

SDGs Fashion

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

“Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.”

Like most modern industries, technology is rapidly progressing within fashion. Human labor continues to be replaced by automation and demand for increased efficiency. As new technology scales and provides sustainable solutions in some cases, how do we ensure that it doesn’t disenfranchise workers in the process? What will happen to displaced labor, especially in fragile nation states that are prone to conflict? In order to combat widespread job loss the industry must commit to training up women from the factory floor to more skilled positions within companies. The fashion industry needs to utilize technology in a way which can grow alongside workers rather than surpassing them. Technological progress is inevitable, but job loss doesn’t have to be.

SDGs Fashion

GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

“Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.”

Both brands producing fashion and customers consuming fashion must acknowledge their roles in causing environmental and human harm. Fashion must take a step back from the oversupply of clothing and rethink the system as we know it. At Remake, we believe that to turn fashion into a force for good, it will take action from individuals, corporations, and governments. Find out what sustainable brands we think are leading the charge and how we are evaluating them.

SDGs Fashion

GOAL 13: Climate Action

“Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.”

By now we are well aware of the direct connection between climate change and the fashion industry. We know that an industry which involves many other carbon-heavy industries (such as agriculture and transportation) has a detrimental impact on our environment. How will the industry decarbonize supply chains? How can fashion create a carbon negative circular economy? What will it take to create reliable environmental regulations for the fashion industry? While imperative for consumers to take proper care of their clothing after purchase, it remains vital for the industry at large to make it easier for individuals to participate in sustainable fashion. 

SDGs Fashion

Goals 1-4: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being and Quality Education

“End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” 

“End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” 

“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all times” 

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

How can fashion build up the regions in which clothing is manufactured instead of tearing them down? What can brands do to ensure responsible and equal partnerships within the communities they work with? Brands must partner with those in their supply chain to improve their quality of life instead of exploiting them for cheap labor. Fair wages, documented hours, and maker well-being programs are essential in evening the playing field between brands and the women who make their clothes.

SDGs Fashion

GOALS 6 & 7: Clean Water and Sanitation and Affordable and Clean Energy

“Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

“Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Seemingly beautiful fashion is produced through reckless pollution and inhumane labor conditions across the world. What can corporations do to ensure clean energy, water, and sanitation in the areas where they operate?

SDGs Fashion

GOALS 11 & 15: Sustainable Cities and Communities and Life on Land

“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

“Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”

So often clothing production is out of sight, and unfortunately, out of mind. How can the industry begin to invest in the communities where they utilize artisan’s skills and garment workers labor? How can fashion begin to replace the currently fragmented supply chain with local systems? 

GOAL 14: Life Below Water 

“Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Every time a synthetic garment is washed, microfibers, aka microplastics, are released into the water. These microplastics eventually end up in our oceans, the seafood we eat, and even rain. While there are innovative consumer products available to individuals, how can legislation enforce safe microplastic capture within domestic and professional washing facilities?

SDGs Fashion

GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

“Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

Fashion can no longer be an industry of passive consumption without consequences. How can fashion use its immense influence to fight corruption? How can industry-leaders take responsibility for furthering conversations around climate injustice, labor violations, and gender inequality?

GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals 

“Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”

What can fashion do to be an example for collaborative sustainable development?

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