Assessing the social impacts of circular strategies in the apparel value chain

Document type

The apparel value chain keeps bread on the table for millions of workers around the globe. However, the sector is dogged by poor working conditions, including human rights violations and irregular income for apparel workers.

The circular economy (CE) has been used by existing businesses and startups as a route to sustainability. However, we don't know enough about the social impact of the CE. Most of the literature assesses this solely in terms of the number of jobs created.

However, the majority of studies concur on the need for further analysis of the quality and inclusivity aspects. This paper explores the social impact of the circular strategies implemented in three countries. It assesses social impacts related to the quality of jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and gender equality and inclusion.

The results find that the CE has limited social ambitions, and that current circular strategies have the same feminised and precarious working conditions as the linear apparel value chain. Policymakers and businesses alike need to set higher expectations in this field, coordinate policy and strategies with different countries' apparel value chain stakeholders to minimise trade-offs, and safeguard a just circular transition.

This research contributes to the body of literature on the CE by introducing a social impact assessment framework for circularity called SIAF-CE⚥. It also provides evidence of the current CE social impact of startups and existing businesses both regionally and globally.