Connecting the Threads: A coordinated policy response to transform the textile value chain and offer solutions which preserve nature

The Connecting the Threads: A coordinated policy response to transform the textile value chain and offer solutions which preserve nature side-event is organised as part of the Sixth UN Environment Assembly on 27 February 2024.   

In line with the UNEA-6 theme, this event will provide the opportunity to discuss on the systemic issues within the textile sector, examining the environmental and social impacts across the entire value chain.

What: Connecting the Threads: A coordinated policy response to transform the textile value chain and offer solutions which preserve nature, side-event of UNEA-6

Lead organisers: Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management of the Netherlands and Ministry of Trade of Türkiye

Date and time: Monday 26th February, evening time

Format: In-person

Location: Conference Room 11, UN Compound in Gigiri, Nairobi


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Background information

The textile sector is woven into our daily lives – it provides high levels of employment, generates US$1.5 trillion in revenue, and provides products essential to human welfare. It also struggles to address its contributions to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution. Every year, the textile sector emits 2-8% of the world’s greenhouse gases, uses the equivalent of 86 million Olympic-sized swimming pools of natural water resources, and is responsible for 9% of microplastic pollution to our oceans. It has impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem quality across the entire value chain, from the use of agrichemicals, land, and water in producing natural fibres to the release of hazardous chemicals into local waterways during dyeing of fabrics, and microfibre shedding during use and disposal.

Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production approximately doubled, whilst the number of times a garment was worn before being discarded decreased 36%. It is estimated that the equivalent of a garbage truck full of textiles is disposed of every second, which  results in high volumes of used textiles being traded to the global south , where infrastructure to sort, resell, refurbish or recycle them are limited or do not exist, resulting in severe environmental, economic, and social consequences, such as pollution, disruption of local industries, and poor working conditions for collectors.

The pollution and waste caused by the current model of textile consumption and production is a systemic issue that needs an inclusive and coordinated policy response looking at addressing issues at all stages of the value chain (product and business model design, fibre, fabric and textile production, consumption and end of life). At the same time, the textile sector provides significant economic opportunities in many countries (e.g., 8.5% of Pakistan’s GDP). It also provides opportunities for workers from low-income backgrounds, particularly women, with research suggesting that the income that women receive from textiles employment can lead to improved outcomes such as better access to education, as well as increased decision-making powers within the community and in domestic matters such as marriage age and family size.

A value chain approach has significant potential in minimizing textile waste volumes and mitigating their negative impacts on the environment, while generating economic opportunities for the actors involved. For instance, circular textile business models (resale, rental, repair and remaking) could contribute up to US$700 billion to the economy.

The sector’s use of natural fibres and associated resources such as water and chemicals have particular potential for meeting several international targets, including Target 10 of the Global Biodiversity Framework in scaling regenerative agriculture and other biodiversity friendly approaches, particularly for cotton, as well as Target 7 on reducing pollution impacts, including hazardous chemical use.

The textile value chain is complex and highly international – impacts of practices and policies enacted in one region reverberate across the global value chain. Given these interlinkages, collaboration and support is needed for countries and their textile industry to meet international commitments on monitoring, assessing and disclosing risks, dependencies and impacts on climate change, biodiversity (as per Target 15 of the Global Biodiversity Framework), and pollution across textile operations. There are currently no identified, open access, global structures to support coordination between policymakers and provide opportunities to share and scale textile policy work across countries and regions. There is a need for a policy dialogue and coordination mechanism to give cohesion and support the upscaling of current policy efforts to minimize negative impacts on nature, people and economies of the textile value chain.

Such dialogue organized as part of UNEA-6 will also inform and support the work conducted under the auspices of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the recently adopted Global Framework on Chemicals.

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