3D printing technology will worsen conditions for garment workers

Professor Christian Durach, who holds the Chair of Supply Chain and Operations Management at ESCP’s Berlin campus, and PhD candidate Marlene Hohn say 3D printing could be implemented from complementary way, improving the efficiency of some existing garment manufacturing processes, for example prototyping.

The paper is based on two Delphi studies and a series of surveys of recognized experts in the field of mass production of clothing, in order to obtain informed forecasts.

Durach and Hohn report that retailers will likely respond to increased production speeds and increased market competition by decreasing purchase prices and the duration of fashion trends.

In addition to the implementation of 3D printing in a complementary capacity, it could also be used as a stand-alone production method, with garment production operations being developed solely based on the new technology and requiring minimal manual labor. , according to the authors.

If new autonomous garment production operations are introduced, the researchers believe that the new supply chains will be based on governance structures similar to those currently in use.

This means they will continue to face social sustainability issues such as having production workers stay on for unpaid overtime, the authors say.

“Our results reveal little hope for improved social sustainability, as suppliers are likely to become increasingly trapped in supply chain structures, leading to deteriorating working conditions in current producing countries. If new production operations are created, experts remain skeptical about who would reap the potential benefits,” says Professor Durach.

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Michael O. Stutler