Fashioning a Socially Responsible Garment Supply Chain: A Qualitative Exploration of Corporate Social Responsibility in Sri Lankan Export Garment Manufacturers

Fashioning a Socially Responsible Garment Supply Chain: A Qualitative Exploration of Corporate Social Responsibility in Sri Lankan Export Garment Manufacturers

Patsy Perry (Heriot-Watt University, UK) and Neil Towers (Heriot-Watt University, UK)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 36
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-756-2.ch018
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The high street fashion industry is a dynamic, challenging global industry and one of few sectors under simultaneous pressure for short lead times and low costs. However, the increasing use of complex global supply chains in order to meet the challenges of the new competitive environment has also increased focus on issues of worker exploitation in globally dispersed production networks. Although there is evidence of a rising consumer demand for low cost, fashionable clothing sourced through ethical supply chains, the nature of the high street fashion industry is not conducive to the implementation of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Qualitative research was undertaken to understand the interplay of obstacles and drivers of CSR implementation in Sri Lankan export garment manufacturers.
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Background: The Nature Of The High Street Fashion Industry

The high street fashion sector, which dominates the fashion retail industry in the UK (Mintel, 2010), refers to the mid-market and value segments served by multiple fashion retailers such as TopShop, Zara, H&M, New Look, Primark, Tally Weijl and Forever 21, which are typically found on a high street or in a shopping mall in developed economies. The sector is characterised by short product life cycles, high product variety, high volatility, low predictability, relatively low margins and high levels of impulse purchasing (Masson et al., 2007; Bruce et al., 2004; Fernie and Sparks, 1998; Christopher and Peck, 1997). Globalisation, changing consumer expectations, advances in technology and the availability of information have reshaped the competitive landscape (Sridharan et al., 2005; Griffiths et al., 2001). Socio-cultural changes such as the orientation towards constant progress and change filter through to the fashion apparel market where consumer needs and wants change at a faster pace (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood, 2006). ‘Fast fashion’, the strategy of rapidly changing collections of high-fashion garments, accounts for an increasing share of the UK apparel market. The aim is “to reduce the processes involved in the buying cycle and lead times for getting new fashion product into stores, in order to satisfy consumer demand at its peak” (Barnes and Lea-Greenwood, 2006, p.259). Some retailers in the ‘fast fashion’ sector may count as many as twenty planned seasons per year (Christopher et al., 2004). A pioneer of ‘fast fashion’, Spanish retailer Zara harnesses its vertically integrated supply chain to maximise speed, synchronicity and responsiveness which enables it to deliver budget interpretations of catwalk looks into stores within two weeks (Tokatli, 2008). With product life-cycles averaging six weeks but some as short as three weeks, Masson et al. (2007, p.239) described the European mass fashion industry as “fickle, volatile and unpredictable”. With the added challenge of long-term falling prices in the sector, brands and retailers have had to re-examine their sourcing and supply chain practices (Hines and McGowan, 2005).

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