Toxic Textiles : Towards Responsibility in Complex Supply Chains

Abstract: The governance of the environmental and health problems that follow in the wake of globalised trade is one of the great contemporary challenges. One of these challenges is the management of chemical pollution and associated risks, and one sector facing this challenge is the textile industry, which has complex supply chains spread across continents. At the same time the role of actors on the playing field are changing and market actors are being called on to responsibly manage the issue of chemical risks and associated challenges. However, governance and control are often obstructed due to complexity and considerable knowledge uncertainty. This situation complicates responsibility-taking and makes it difficult to ascribe liabilities to specific actors, as it is not obvious who is responsible for what. This thesis is concerned with the process of how a group of market actors – private and public textile buyers – assume responsibility of chemical risks in their supply chains in a situation that is characterized by uncertainty and complexity. This thesis aims to contribute to an understanding of what happens when market actors are called on to manage the negative side effects of globalisation. The focus is on Swedish textile-buying private and public organisations. The thesis constructs an analytical model based on the key concepts responsible governance, responsibilisation, and responsible supply chain management (RSCM). The thesis explores the barriers, challenges and opportunities that exist for buyers seeking to assume RSCM and whether a process of responsibilisation can be observed in the textile sector. The thesis uses an exploratory approach and interviews, participatory observations and literature studies, as well as case studies to understand the process and to investigate barriers, challenges, opportunities. In summary, the thesis shows that a process of responsibilisation is ongoing on the organisational and sector levels. Further, it is shown that due to the complex structures of the chains, there are more barriers and challenges than opportunities for buyers striving for RSCM. However, it is argued that cooperation, stronger public and private policy, and a reflexive approach could be ways forward towards RSCM and increased responsibilisation in the textile sector.