Is the Denim Industry Keeping Pace With the SDGs?

Rivet

For James Bartle, Outland Denim is basically the first Sustainable Development Goal—end poverty in all its forms everywhere—decked out in blue jeans.

“Poverty is the root cause of so many issues,” said Bartle, who founded the Australian-based B Corp in 2016 to train and employ women who were sexually trafficked but has since “widened its doors” to include employees of “varying backgrounds of vulnerability.”

Bartle says, however, that Outland Denim is “100 percent pretty much for all the SDGs”—which the United Nations Global Compact laid out in 2015 as a kind of turnkey framework for achieving ambitious environmental, economic and social targets—so much so they buttress the foundation of the business in the form of “pillars” such as opportunity, education, training and living wages.

In the past 12 months alone, Outland Denim has conducted 105 hours of training and education—on topics as varied as health, English language, financial management and self defence—for its cut-and-sew employees in Cambodia. Some 85 percent of its formerly-at-risk workers, Bartle said, reported a reduced level of risk to exploitation after just six months of employment. And when asked about how their life has changed since working for Outland Denim, 57 percent cited financial security and 43 percent said their quality of life was now higher. For its efforts, the Global SDG Awards honored Outland Denim with its 2019 prizes for SDG 1 (no poverty) and SDG 8 (decent working conditions and economic growth).

Formally known as Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, or the 2030 Agenda, the 17 SDGs replaced the 2000 Millennium Development Goals as a shared roadmap for ensuring all people enjoy peace, prosperity and a healthy planet by 2030. They’re broken up into 169 specific benchmarks, calibrated to advance issues such as equality, clean water, ocean health and climate action in tangible and measurable ways, and they’re especially relevant to the fashion industry, whose globe-spanning impact leaves a mark on just about every single one.


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