Directions for the Sustainable Development and Competitiveness of Regions
Edited by Charlie Karlsson, Börje Johansson and Roger R. Stough
Chapter 14: Technological adjustments in the textile, clothes and leather industries: an alternative pathway for competitiveness
The importance of the textile, clothing and leather (TCL) sectors in Europe is obvious. As an industry based predominantly on small and mediumsized enterprises (SME) with an annual turnover of more than €230 billion produced by around 273 000 enterprises, these sectors employ more than 3 million people in the European Union (EU)-27.1 The liberalization process following the signing of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement has increased import penetration in these sectors, with the EU industry experiencing serious difficulties in competing with foreign operators working with lower labour costs and less stringent social and environmental regulations (COM, 2004). These new economic conditions have been forcing a restructuring in these industries. The ability to react and to adjust technologically to the challenges of these harder market conditions is what determines whether a region is a producer of high-value-added goods or a mere subcontractor. Although delocalization is a common threat, industrial agglomerations in low-cost countries are related to inferior working conditions, while in economically advanced countries the expansion of more skilled forms of work in the fashion-intensive production centres could compensate the further job loss. In fact, alternative employment opportunities may arise from complementary areas linked to technological innovations, and although one can expect further job decline in manufacturing productive units, the creation of high-qualification jobs in complementary areas, such as design, marketing, retail and management, may also be expected (Scott, 2006).
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