Image courtesy of STWI

“We can not work in silos, the power of collaboration is so much stronger”

Founding member of Sweden Textile Water Initiative and Ethics (STWI) and Environment Manager at Indiska Renée Andersson is convinced that collaboration is the way forward for water and all other sustainability challenges. Every company, every NGO, every government, must take responsibility according to their capacity. Here, she shares her journey of insights to why cooperation is important for the industry's survival as well as our own.

I worked for many years in Africa and Asia with the poorest of the poor families. Mothers, fathers, youths who had to beg or become prostitutes in order to survive, since there was no work, no industries. I learned that the only way to eradicate poverty is by getting people into employment. It goes for all of us, in any countries. Companies create jobs, but this must be done with respect for human rights and the environment; otherwise we risk being stuck in a vicious circle. A circle that effects all of us and leads to protests, uprise, war, terror and refugee flows.

In the textile city of Tirupur in South India in 1999 I saw the heavily polluted river, with colors of the latest worldwide fashion. Huge piles of toxic sludge at dyeing and printing units, leaking into the soil, down to ground water. Women and children queuing up to collect their daily drinking water from tankers, because piped water is too dirty to drink. Farmers protesting about their land and water being polluted by dirty water; and water shortages.

I was not in Tirupur to review textile-related water issues, rather the social and health and safety problems that existed in the stitching units of the textile industry.

As Project Manager for DressCode – a collaboration between four Swedish textile retailers, H&M, KappAhl, Lindex, Indiska and the Clean Clothes Campaign, consisting of human rights NGOs and unions, I conducted the first pilot project in Tirupur, in order to find out if it was possible to change the situation in the stitching units.

The project went on for three years, in India, China and Bangladesh and today we all know the improvements we have achieved by working for the same aim, since then, together with our textile suppliers, concerning social and health and safety issues.

« I learned that the only way to eradicate poverty is by getting people into employment »

Working for a couple of years with these issues, I started to go down the supply chain to look at dyeing and printing units, water and chemicals. I did so for four years, hoping to find a system to convince our suppliers, their sub suppliers, Pollution Control Boards and environmental NGOs, but with almost no results. It was so obvious–no one can do this alone, and the idea to start Sweden Textile Water Initiative, STWI, was born. Call for collaboration, call for action to care for the water issues and change the textile industry behavior of wasting water and pollution.

Since the start of STWI in 2010, more than 40 Swedish textile and leather retailers, Stockholm International Water Institute, some of our suppliers and sub suppliers, Sida and consultants have been involved in a collaboration process which is the biggest and most successful private-public-partnership in Sweden. And we will continue to collaborate for water–for the industry and for our own survival.

Visit STWI here. If you are interested in learning more about STWI and the story behind the collaboration process, you can order the book The Textile Challenge by Renée Andersson and Jan Peter Bergkvist at order@sleepwell.nuSEK 195, USD $25, EUR 22.

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