Sustainable development requires the cooperation of many entities – textiles workers, factory owners, international buyers, and the government. Each has its own role to play in uplifting an industry, and each has the role it has played in an industry’s decline.
Pakistan, ten years ago the world’s 4th largest cotton producer, lost half of its markets in the intervening years, and is only now starting to pick itself back up.
The decline was caused by many factors. As the economy grew, the country developed a severe energy shortage, which resulted in long blackouts that stopped factories from meeting international orders on time – blackouts that could last for 20 hours at a time for electricity and up to six days for gas (to power the looms). The transportation system started falling apart and vehicles grew old, also preventing suppliers from delivering goods on time.
Media reports on terrorism made some buyers feel unsafe about visiting Pakistan. And in 2012 Pakistan’s rupee dropped 44% in value, followed by another 17% drop soon after, making imports of raw materials much more expensive.
Between 2015-16 more than 100 factories in Pakistan shut down, terminating more than 500,000 jobs. Most of these were small and medium size enterprises. In 2016, the 220 Pakistani textile manufacturers at Germany’s annual Heimtextil Fair returned with only half of the contracts they’d had the year before. Leading textiles manufacturers noted that “textiles are going away from Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s economy was not always like this. In 2006 the country was one of the top 10 textiles exporters in the world, the 4th largest cotton producer, and the 3rd largest supplier of spun cotton. In 2011-12 the industry sold $13.8 billion of textiles overseas, mainly to Europe and the United States. In that year textiles were 63% of exports and the mills employed 20% of the working population. But the industry outgrew its declining economic environment and physical infrastructure, and buyers went elsewhere.
Eventually the Pakistani government realised that industrial sustainability was linked, not just to the country’s financial practices, but also to efficiency of its transport and energy systems. They developed a $6 billion plan to improve transportation infrastructure. The Government and Army banned terrorist activities and encouraged border groups to leave the country. . And Pakistan signed a six year agreement with China to build the hydro-powered Karot Dam on the Jhelum River, helping to close the country’s 3,000 megawatt energy gap.
The private sector is taking initiative too. The government of Australia and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) have developed a plan to work with Pakistan’s cotton farmers in 2017 to upgrade skills and qualify them for the “premium” cotton market. The program is being paid for by the Australian government and a group of leading brands – H&M, Levi Strauss, Marks & Spencer, Cotton On and others.
At the end of 2016, textiles trade associations in Italy teamed up with their counterparts in Pakistan for an ongoing exchange of market information and skill-building. And Denmark is sending biochemistry experts to help Pakistan’s textile sector be more competitive. Between the increasingly active networking in the private sector, and the government’s improved financial conditions and infrastructure projects, Pakistan should see its textiles industry soon beginning to bounce back.