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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI)

International Trade Center (
United Nations / Multilateral body

    Since 2009, EFI provides vulnerable artisans with market access and training. It acts as a bridge, connecting marginalized artisan communities in challenging and remote locations with global lifestyle brands. Linking international brands with our network of artisans gives these communities access to the international marketplace. This creates employment for artisans, and an opportunity to improve their lives. We create meaningful work, with fair and decent working conditions, employing traditional skills. EFI also supports the development of African design talent and encourages manufacturing with African artisans, and supporting the development of export capacities.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    EFI closely work with civil and governmental organizations. In Afghanistan, two project activities exemplify the approach, one for rural women and the other for farmers and their families. In a pilot activity, planned and managed together with public and private sector and civil society partners, a combination of climate-resistant crops was sown on 25 agricultural plots in Herat province. In addition to mulberry trees and saffron, farmers were given inputs to grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Full training was provided on cultivation and on water-efficient irrigation techniques. In Burkina, EFI drives informal economies that work in the cotton value chain towards a regular situation or formal economy. EFI supports cotton weavers to build export capacities in order to become suppliers of international fashion. As many talent in the creative sector do not have access to formal education in fashion design or business, the accelerator is an alternative education chance. The ultimate objective of the Accelerator project is to educate and empower fashion players to have the skills and knowledge in the creation and production chains, to operate the 100% Made in Africa paradigm. In central Asia, EFI builds export capacity for an all-women social enterprise and a gender-mixed cooperative skilled in Atlas weaving, specialized in natural dyes, Mulberry silk and locally grown organic cotton. The partnership is about coordinating the work of a group of artisans to create employment in a number of communities. The European Union fully supports EFI because it addresses the challenges of migration. A set of tools allowing the program to monitor results and ensure decent work for all is in place. Partners bring basic materials, land and accommodation for project materials.


    3500 women in Afghanistan received silkworms and training on rearing, harvesting and selling, making an average income of $250 in the first season. Raw silk was spun by social enterprises whose (female) members’ income increased by 650% in the first two years. In Burkina, 49 microenterprises, 60% run by women, supported. They are grouped in a social enterprise headed by a woman and of which 100% of the board of directors are women. To date, 1612 (89% of beneficiaries) women improved their social status. More than 100 women subscribed to financial services and seventy (70) men signed a petition against social constraints that hinder women’s development. The accelerator has raised greater awareness of international trade for 100 clients. 16 MSMEs are regularly transacting national and international business for 250 artisans from 16 brands and 1000 artisans from a social fashion enterprise in Kenya. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, 46 artisans have access to regular income ($152 average).

    Enabling factors and constraints

    Launched 10 years ago, EFI has applied the same business model in 10 countries and brought ethical products to tops brands in US and European markets. Experience, business contacts and institutional partners in the UN family are undoubtedly enabling factors. Local buy-in is vital too: from the social enterprises and from partners such as ministries, local government, universities and NGOs. Financial support is also vital. While EFI aims to build strong, resilient businesses, it takes time and resources to reach that stage. Donors such as the European Union and USAID have celebrated successes along with EFI.

    Sustainability and replicability

    EFI has a proven business model that has already been replicated in at least 10 emerging economies. The examples of CABES and Artisan Fashion, both independent businesses created thanks to EFI, illustrate it well. The logic of ethical production and consumption is one that generates value for all parties involved, from the very beginning of the supply chain, via the producer and his/her employees, and via socially-aware fashion brands, right up to consumers eager to spend their money on quality products that have had a positive, not a negative, impact on the people making them. As long as monitoring and evaluation are robust, positive impacts can be proven and inspiring stories shared, it is a self-sustaining model. Future iterations of the initiative will strengthen the focus on the environmental aspects of sustainable production, including better management of natural resources, greater attention to the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and circularity in production processes.

    COVID-19 Impact

    COVID-19 travel restrictions and global lockdowns showed businesses the perils of long, complex, unmanageable supply chains, and the benefits of the shorter, fairer supply chain EFI has long promoted. However, a myriad of sub-projects and events were planned for 2020, but most had to be postponed due to the pandemic, which halted production and complicated travel and other planned interactions with the project team. To address this, EFI provided training sessions on masks-making and facilitated training on heath and safety related to COVID for its beneficiaries. It continues holding training sessions to upskill an additional number of artisans. Many artisan communities continued to work from home to limit person-to-person interaction and protect the health and safety of everyone involved.

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    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    02 January 2008 (start date)
    30 December 2030 (date of completion)
    International Trade Center
    Other beneficiaries

    Knowing that any means of eradicating socioeconomic constraints must be built on local realities and on endogenous responses brought by communities, EFI has always based its approach on local policies. It targets the most vulnerable communities living in challenging and remote locations and works with disadvantaged entrepreneurs, youth, designers, suppliers, brands, consumers, UN agencies and NGO to better address the world’s challenges.

    More information
    Burkina Faso
    Burkina Faso
    Contact Information

    Bila Oumar, Social Affairs Officer