IEE Newsletter No. 30

Working Meeting of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles

Timeela Manandhar reports

On 18 September 2019, IEE research fellow, Timeela Manandhar, and PhD candidate, Britta Holzberg, participated in the biannual Working Meeting of the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (‘Textile Partnership’). The Textile Partnership is a multi-stakeholder initiative comprising of 130 members from the fields of business, trade unions, civil society organizations, state agencies, and research institutions. Together, those involved in the collaboration are striving to improve the social, ecological and economic conditions along the textile supply chain. The Partnership was founded in October 2014, in response to the deadly accidents in textile factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan, particularly the tragic collapse of the ‘Rana Plaza’ building. It was initiated by the German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dr. Gerd Müller.

The IEE became an official member of the Textile Partnership in 2016 and is represented by its Director, Professor Markus Kaltenborn, Timeela Manandhar and Britta Holzberg. The IEE has substantial research experience in the field. From March 2015 – December 2017, it was involved in the interdisciplinary, multi-university research project, "Political Authority and Transnational Governance-Arrangements: Regulation through Public and Private Labour, Social and Environmental Standards in the Asian Textile and Apparel Industry", funded by the Mercator Research Center Ruhr (MERCUR). Currently, both Timeela Manandhar (‘Legal Liability for Human Rights Abuses by Businesses in Situations of Conflict’) and Britta Holzberg (‘The Quality of Work in Global Supply Chains’) are writing their PhD theses on topics related to the Partnership.

The second Working Meeting in 2019

The Textile Partnership’s second Working Meeting of 2019 consisted of several break-out sessions on ongoing and new projects of the Textile Partnership. Topics included indirect procurement and the responsibility of importers and agents for achieving the partnership’s goals; living wages; setting climate targets in accordance with the Paris Agreement; the introduction of the Open Apparel Registry; tackling gender based violence in the supply chain; as well as the German government’s development projects in the Asian textile sector.

The focus of the Working Meeting was improving the review mechanism in place. Through the review process, stakeholders identify social, ecological and economic goals to achieve the partnership’s objectives and monitor progress towards achieving them. The stakeholders have agreed to base these goals on international instruments, including the United Nations Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights (UNGP), the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for responsible supply chain in the garment and footwear sector, and the ILO core conventions. At the same time, the partnership has jointly set common goals, including raising the percentage of sustainable cotton to 35 %, with organic cotton making up 10 % by 2020; and 70 % sustainable cotton (with 20 % organic) by 2025.

All members begin by recording their own individual starting point in a baseline assessment. Then, they set their goals for the coming year, record these in their annual roadmap, and report on progress. If a goal is not met in the following year, the member has to explain why it was not attained. The reports are made accessible to all partnership members and reviewed by external experts. The roadmaps and progress reports are published on the partnerships website, with sensitive information redacted. The review process will be updated to better align with the OECD alignment assessment and the report period will be extended to a two-year time frame. Details of possible changes were discussed in Hamburg, with controversy between civil society organisations and businesses on the reporting mechanisms and the question of who will be taking part in the review and evaluation of members’ plans.

Outlook on current debates on the voluntary nature of the Textile Partnership

The Textile Partnership is one key component of Germany’s National Action Plan (‘NAP’) for Business and Human Rights. NAP’s are governmental instruments below law that are used to communicate goals and priorities on a specific topic and to prepare possible future measures. They aim to support the implementation of legal obligations and political commitments. NAP’s are currently the most common instrument for governments to implement the UNGP. The UNGP consists of three pillars: the state duty to protect human rights; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses. The implementation of the UNGP should consist of a ‘smart mix’ of voluntary and binding mechanisms; however, the German NAP and the Textile Partnership have faced criticism for their voluntary nature, including from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In September 2019, the German government announced the ‘Green button’, a new label for standards in the textile sector, which will complement the Textile Partnership’s initiatives. However, civil society organisations call for legislation on social and ecological standards in the supply chain of all sectors (‘Lieferkettengesetz’), following mandatory human rights due diligence legislation in France, the Netherlands, and the UK.

The next review cycle of the Textile Partnership will be part of determining whether Germany’s current voluntary approach to implementing the UNGP is sufficient. While the Textile Partnership has strengthened communication and cooperation between the stakeholders to some extent, its goals need to be more ambitious, especially regarding the companies’ human rights responsibility, set out in the UNGP.

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