Katalyst Initiative was founded by civil society veterans to help create the governance tools needed to protect human rights and the environment in complex 21st century value chains, with a special focus on the garment industry and its future as a test case for a wide range of industries that will need to transform in the very near future.

A pressing need for improved governance

A ‘Just Transition‘ to economies that respect the rights of workers and operate within planetary boundaries will require behavioural change across the various stages of global supply chains. For this reason, Katalyst’s work focuses on questions of governance:  the power to define and compel  behavioural norms among companies. We see a critical need to rapidly catalyse* a new, shared strategic vision for governing global industries like garments in the years to come. For the last 20 years, the industry has been dominated by voluntary, business-led ‘regulation’, based on factory audits and codes of conduct. As our colleagues at Cornell University and elsewhere have documented, these efforts had very limited success in protecting workers or the environment. 

If we want to create a 21st century garment industry that respects the rights of workers and protects the environment, we will need a different set of rules and new ways to enforce them.  Katalyst advocates for replacing over-reliance on voluntary efforts with what we call full-spectrum governance.  This is a ‘smart mix’ of governance forms designed for the future, with transnational public regulation and collective bargaining fit for global supply chains as central pillars. It also has space for new and hybrid governance forms such as investor-led sustainability initiatives.  Katalyst’s goal is to help policymakers and civil society actors to design these new forms of governance to finally end the longstanding abuses and corrosive inequality in global supply chains; to reduce the environmental harms done by many industries; to help workers and communities adapt to the climate impacts they are facing; and to give new, sustainable business models a chance to succeed in environments dominated by those who benefit from the status quo.

Building Blocks for Governing the Garment Industry

Designing effective governance, especially in complex contexts like the garment industry means looking at the root causes of problems, which are often located far away from the negative outcomes we are familiar with. We cannot end poverty wages, excessive overtime, carbon emissions or water pollution if we focus only on the factory floor. The garment industry we have now is the product of widespread beliefs about issues like how corporate liability should be structured, how risk should be managed, which business models are acceptable, and who in supply chains should be responsible for rights and the environment. If we want to change the future of the industry, we need to confront these beliefs, and change the laws, agreements and economic behaviour they lead to.

Katalyst aims to help governance designers from governments, trade unions, NGOs and other sectors to better understand this complex industry so that effective and futureproof forms of governance can be developed.  Our Building Blocks series of working papers supports that goal. We propose that with greater understanding, creative and effective solutions will emerge that lead far more effectively to a fair and sustainable garment industry.

* As our chemistry teachers taught us long ago, a catalyst provides inputs that can help other agents do what they already do, but more quickly, with less energy and waste, and usually with strong bonds to each other.

Katalyst Initiative