South Africa's cotton supply chain from farm to retail: applying the triple top line to sustainable apparel supply chains

Scudder, Crescent
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University of Delaware
Growing concerns over the environmental and social impacts related to the production of clothing and textiles have created a need for more discussion about supply chain practices. Currently, there are no guidelines or strategies for addressing sustainable supply chains in the apparel industry that minimize environmental impacts and uphold socially responsible practices. This exploratory case study traces an apparel supply chain, with a focus on cotton, in South Africa that is under a development strategy to create a sustainable supply chain from farm to retail. In-depth interviews were conducted across the supply chain, including cotton farmers, cotton gins, a cotton yarn manufacturer, a textile mill, an apparel manufacturer, and a retailer. The purpose of the study was to gain an understanding of the business decisions at each node of the supply chain that influence the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability by applying the triple top line model (McDonough & Braungart, 2002). This study identifies strengths and weaknesses in sustainable practices that adhere to the triple top line model within each node of the supply chain. Results found economic factors were drivers for good social and environmental practices, with the latter being the smallest segment of the three. The study makes recommendations for improving practices at each node of the supply chain and recommendations for strategies for developing sustainable apparel supply chains.