Learn about the work of UNEP and its partners in this area, and get engaged.
1 August 2019
Coloured fabric tied in a knot, blue background

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The textiles industry has grown to become one of the largest global industries, with a sales value estimated at over $2.5 trillion in 2016. A significant and growing portion of this amount is consumed and produced in Asia Pacific and South Asia. Annually, the industry produces approximately 80 billion garments and directly employs 60 to 75 million people worldwide, a considerable part of which are women. Environmental and social impacts associated with the textile value chain are significant and therefore of increasing concern to the global community. In the current, mostly linear, system for producing, distributing, and using clothing more than $500 billion in value is lost from the system every year due to under-utilized clothes and the lack of recycling. It is estimated that eliminating today's negative environmental and health impacts emanating from poor chemicals and facilities management in the textile industry would have an economic benefit of $8 billion annually in 2030. 

Deeper knowledge to lever action in the value chain – about its actors, the environmental and social impacts, and associated intervention strategies for a more sustainable and circular value chain – is required. Generally, sustainability considerations in the production of textiles have gained traction, particularly for labour issues. However, the global textile value chain is still far from closing loops and reducing its impacts. With sales expected to grow further, accelerated through ever increasing demand for fast fashion, actions for a sustainable textile value chain, including new business models, are indispensable. Hazardous substances are a barrier to achieving more sustainable and circular value chains. Transparency on products’ chemical content, production history, and properties for use and after use is fundamental. The global growing fashion appetite has also a potential to be a highly visible engine for lifestyle change and consumer education.

UNEP aims to provide leadership and convene partners to develop knowledge and solutions to advance on sustainable and more circular textile value chains. This website collects materials and informs on events of UNEP and its partners around the topic.

What happened so far:

  • UNEP's Economy Division works on Sustainable Consumption and Production, including through circularity, and sound chemicals management in different sectors, including the textile sector. An overview of the work, as well as supportive methodologies and approaches provided by UNEP's Economy Division to advance circularity in textile value chains is available here.
  • In January 2019, UNEP convened an expert consultation workshop with representatives from the fashion and textile industry, governments, international organisations, advocacy groups and fashion institutes, to discuss and reach a common understanding on the textile value chain, its key impact drivers, as well as intervention strategies for a more sustainable and circular textile value chain. A report, published on the 20th October 2020, has captured the consultation outcomes. You can download it here
  • In March 2019, a panel session on 'Accelerating Circularity Actions for a Sustainable Textile Value Chain' was held at the 2019 Sustainable Innovation Expo at the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). The key outcomes are summarized here (pages 28-30).
  • In June 2019, UNEP and the Ministry of Environment of Finland, with the participation of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the European Environmental Bureau, organized a side session at the World Circular Economy Forum 2019: "Closing the Loop in Textiles - How to boost more sustainable and circular textiles value chain". The WCEF 2019 summary is available here.
  • In November 2019, a masterclass for African fashion entrepreneurs was held at the outsets of the Global Gender Summit 2019. The Fashionomics Africa Masterclass was organized by the African Development Bank, in partnership with UNEP and other 6 organizations.

Relevant reports:

Relevant initiatives:

Webinars, podcasts and events:

COVID-19 analysis and responses:

Case study
Consumer goods, Natural Resources, Textiles, Value chain