Sustainable textile production in developing countries.

Pathways to fair and environmentally friendly clothing and the promotion of prosperity and development

75 million people work in the textile and garment industry worldwide - mainly women in developing and emerging countries in Asia and Africa. There are several reasons for this: In many developing countries, wages and labour costs are lower than in industrialised countries. This allows companies to save considerable money by moving their production to countries with lower labour costs. Some countries also have specific resources or expertise needed to produce certain types of garments or materials. For example, a country may have a long tradition of raw material extraction, such as cotton production, and therefore be a preferred location for cotton garment production. Outsourcing production also allows companies to flexibly adjust their production capacities and respond quickly to increased demand when needed.

Engine for sustainable development

In developing and emerging countries, the sector has become very important within national economies in recent years. It often represents a large share of industrial production, contributes to job creation and can thus be a driver for economic development.

An important factor for the development of the textile industry in developing countries is the proximity to important sales markets such as Europe and North America. It enables goods to be made available quickly and cost-effectively through existing supply chains. In addition, many developing countries have large numbers of cheap labour, which lowers production costs.

Textile production in the light of globalisation

Looking at the history of the global textile industry, it is important to know that many production locations have changed or relocated over the years due to various factors. For example, Germany, once a major player in textile production, has seen a significant decline. This shift is largely due to the globalisation of the economy, with production moving to places where labour and production costs are lower. In addition, technological advances and automation have led to changes in the labour force, which have contributed to fewer and fewer people working in traditional textile production in countries such as Germany.

The most important regions for textile production abroad are currently in Asia and Africa, with countries such as China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam leading in Asia and Ethiopia, Egypt and Morocco in Africa. These countries offer a large labour force potential and comparatively low production costs, making them attractive for global brands.

Fairness and transparency: there is still much to do

So is the textile industry predestined to promote sustainable development in these countries, as the member states of the United Nations have set themselves the goal with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? In the North-West media landscape, reports are published again and again about burning textile factories in Bangladesh, child labour in India or pirated branded goods from Vietnam. And indeed, the working conditions are often bad and there are hardly any social safeguards for the workers. Environmental standards are also often not respected. In addition, there are problems with the observance of copyrights and intellectual property rights.

As far as transparency is concerned, progress has been made, but textile production and supply chains still have significant problems. Opaque supply chains can lead to labour rights violations and environmental degradation, making it difficult for consumers and companies to make informed choices. However, consumer demand and pressure from NGOs are pushing for more transparent and traceable supply chains, which has led to initiatives such as Fashion Revolution's Fashion Transparency Index.

Textile production in Europe. Quo vadis?

Besides Portugal, one of the main players in European textile production, there are other alternatives. Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria are emerging as attractive alternatives due to their proximity to large markets, traditional craftsmanship and improved production capacities. Countries in North Africa such as Morocco and Egypt are also attractive due to their geographical proximity to Europe, competitive costs and growing expertise in textile production.

Sustainable development opportunities

International development cooperation has long been concerned with how to improve the framework conditions and make the textile industry an engine for sustainable development. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) also promotes the introduction and recognition of environmental and social standards in the cooperation countries of German development cooperation. In the field of textile production, there are corresponding programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Cambodia, for example. Among other things, the governments of these countries are advised on the design of labour and environmental legislation.

The economy is also in demand

But companies and the private sector can also make an important contribution to making textile production in developing and emerging countries fairer and more sustainable. On the one hand, this can be achieved through industry initiatives that the brands themselves have taken: For example, the Fair Wear Foundation, which is committed to improving social conditions, compliance with ILO core labour standards and living wages, or seals such as the IVN Best from the International Association of the Natural Textile Industry, which also guarantees compliance with ILO core labour standards and ecological production.

To find a producer or supplier in the textile industry, companies can use various resources. B2B marketplaces, trade directories and trade fairs are traditional means to find potential partners. In the digital age, online platforms such as bring companies together with sustainable producers in developing countries.

Sustainable textile production and

In this way, companies can also enter into concrete business relationships in bilateral direct business with manufacturers from developing countries that are on a sustainable path. This can take place accompanied by German development cooperation, which offers various ways in which companies can participate in projects in developing countries or even establish direct trade relations that benefit both sides.

The matchmaking platform is a project of German development cooperation that focuses on attracting companies from the private sector to participate in development cooperation projects. Here you can also find numerous business opportunities from the textile sector - from sustainable fashion from Uganda to cotton partnerships in Burkina Faso.

Learn more about the textile industry in developing and emerging countries here.

Toast content has launched a special call supporting companies in Ukraine and Moldova, as well as civil society organisations in Germany. Find out more on the special pages.