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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Towards sustainable and equitable textile manufacture: Evaluation frameworks for poverty-alleviation interventions

Trends in consumerism and consumption have led to the expansion of a global textile and apparel industry (TAI) supply chain that exploits both people and the planet, created by primarily Western consumer demand for the new and vibrant, and enabled by factory operations dependent on loose labour and environmental laws in developing countries of the Global South. These supply chains exploit producers often living below the poverty, for whom development interventions have had little success so far. One solution bridging gaps in both TAI and development are Base of Pyramid (BoP) organizations which focus on uplifting producers and center their strategy on reflecting the true value of these textile artisan's skills in market prices through marketing and education tactics. However, it is not clear whether they take a structured approach to evaluating the impact of their initiatives on the communities in question, nor whether they address development gaps.

Six case studies were used to address this gap by examining the impact assessment (IA) and decision-making structures of BoP TAI producer-focused organizations. By compiling existing BoP IA frameworks and applying principles to all supply chain stages, a comprehensive textile-specific IA framework was developed to categorize existing IA protocols and to guide semi-structured interviews. With-in and cross-case analyses revealed a lack of IA but successful interventions nonetheless because of factors like financial independence as a baseline, deep stakeholder dialogue, the structural role of the producer, and alternative governance structures. While thorough stakeholder engagement and centering producers as decision-makers helped ensure economic and social value return to producers, it remains unclear whether other impacts, addressed in formal IA, are missed as a result of biased engagement. An advantage to other aid interventions, economic independence allowed organization the advantage of remaining free of external influences in decisions-making, ensuring organizations were able to prioritize producers. While this financial independence allowed organizations a pseudo-regulatory role in the ecosystem that helped producers in the short term, it is possible that organizations filling this void also relieved pressure on government to adapt anti-exploitation policies. This pseudo-regulatory role also gave organizations power to shape producer futures. It remains unclear whether conceptions of these futures were agreed between organizations and producers. Furthermore, environmental IA was largely an afterthought. This study demonstrates how structurally centering the producer allows producer agency, contributing to social development beyond economic, but challenges remain in ensuring producer development and resilience in an ecosystem that includes few equitable actors. Recommendations are made for BoP organizations, policy-makers, and producers to strive towards models of sustainable and equitable textile manufacture together.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.