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Rethinking global textile production
The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh three years ago, in which over 1,100 people died and more than 2,400 people were injured, has once again brought the textile industry into public criticism.
After the accident, the companies promised to improve safety and working conditions as well as pay. But the industry is still characterized by considerable grievances, including above all:
- Unsafe factories: In many factories there are no emergency exits, the doors are locked during production and the workplaces are designed in such a way that there is no escape route in an emergency. Due to their statics, the buildings are unsuitable for the heavy machinery and therefore threatened with collapse. Flammable chemicals are stored unsafe and fire extinguishers are lacking. In addition, the workers are not trained for possible emergencies.
- Lack of labor, social and health standards: Many factory owners still do not comply with the ILO labor standards. As a rule, wages are insufficient to secure the livelihood of the workers and the working hours are too long. In addition, people in the factories often work with dangerous chemicals without wearing the necessary protective clothing.
- Environmental degradation: Many factories damage their environment and endanger the drinking water of the population in the producing countries because they discharge dangerous chemicals unfiltered into the rivers.
- Insufficient audits: Attempts through audits to check factories for their social and environmental standards often fail because the audits do not reflect the real conditions of the factories. The large number of differently qualified audit providers and the non-uniformly defined evaluation criteria are also a problem.
- No traceability / opaque supply chains: Most textile companies do not produce their goods in their own factories. The orders are not passed on to a known factory, but there are numerous intermediate suppliers who place the orders with local factories in China, India or Bangladesh. Frequently changing business relationships with the numerous suppliers make the supply chains opaque.
- Fast fashion: The grievances in the factories also have their causes in the European and American sales markets. The fashion industry in Europe and the USA is under considerable competitive pressure. Consumers increasingly want new and cheaper clothing. "Fast fashion" has become a lifestyle. The large textile chains usually offer several collections per season and the quickly produced cheap goods have an extremely short life cycle.
There is another way
At the Fashion Week in Berlin, which takes place twice a year, the "Ethical Fashion Show Berlin" and the "Green Show Room" present sustainably produced fashion. There you can see that there is another way.
It is possible to offer sustainably and fairly produced fashion. It's chic and affordable too. And since the Rana Plaza accident at the latest, more and more consumers are looking at the production and working conditions in textile production. A current survey by the management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) showed that 87 percent of consumers are generally interested in the origin, manufacture and delivery route of the products they buy. But according to the PwC survey, customers are the least satisfied with the information offered on traceability, especially for textile products.
The desire for transparency and for clothing that is produced fairly and sustainably is growing steadily. For this, politics must set the necessary course. Because sustainable fashion must no longer be a niche market, but must become a matter of course.
Textile alliance - well meant, but not sufficient
On the initiative of Federal Minister Gerd Müller, the so-called Textile Alliance was founded in October 2014. The alliance aims to improve the social, economic and ecological conditions along the supply chain of the textile and clothing sector in Germany on a voluntary basis.
The beginning of the alliance turned out to be difficult, because almost all the desired alliance participants - companies, trade associations and NGOs - rejected the Federal Minister. Only after the conditions of the Ministry's originally extensive action plan were changed and considerably slimmed down with the participation of the companies did the matter get going and numerous actors signed the alliance.
The textile alliance is based on the principle of voluntariness. After a year and a half it has a lot of self-organization but no results. In order to eliminate the problems and deficiencies in the global supply chain of the textile industry, a national approach with voluntary commitments and initiatives by the companies alone will hardly be sufficient. This requires at least a binding legal framework at EU level.
Political instruments for fair, safe and sustainable textile production
The global production and supply chain of textile production consists of many individual stages. In order to improve social, human rights and ecological conditions, the first thing that is needed is transparency. A central instrument for ensuring transparent production and supply chains is a European disclosure requirement.
Transparency is a prerequisite for facts and changes to be visible and measurable, both for consumers and in competition. Only when the entire supply chain and production chain is transparent can consumers, companies and human rights, environmental or consumer organizations bring about change.
Companies in the textile sector must be obliged by an EU transparency regulation to make their entire production and supply chain transparent and to disclose that internationally recognized human rights and environmental agreements are being complied with. We also need certification systems with which compliance with these agreements can be monitored and sanctioned.
Our goal is to introduce seamless traceability in the textile sector, just like in food law. It must be made visible how textiles were produced so that consumers can make their purchase decision fully informed.
You can find more texts on the subject in our dossier "Impossible! Textile Industry in Asia".
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