The Committee on Development in the European Parliament discussed the adoption of an EU flagship initiative on the garment sector. The aim of this initiative is an EU-wide agreement on labour and environmental standards that apply to the entire production process as well as in the supply chain in the garment sector.
The non-existence of fundamental labour standards in the garment industry has been increasingly pilloried since the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013 in Bangladesh. The fatal breakdown of the factory building that caused over 1,000 dead drew attention to the sad reality of the dangerous working conditions in the factories that produce for many multinational garment companies. A large number of the employees in this sector are women. Both the Chamber of Labour and trade unions have long been urging the garment sector to meet labour standards. Hence, it is all the more welcome that the European Parliament is now addressing the issue by proposing a flagship initiative for the garment sector. So far, over 180 amendments have been submitted to the document prepared by the rapporteur of the GUE/NGL group, which may be seen as a sign for a broad engagement by the Committee, but also by Parliament. The Draft Report urges the Commission to prepare a legislative proposal for binding standards.
Currently, different standards and seals apply to the garment sector and most of them are based on voluntary membership and often only concern parts of the production process. Thus, it is difficult, especially for consumers, to tell where and under what conditions the purchased garments were produced. Websites, especially designed for consumer, such as the website of the Chamber of Labour Upper Austria (only in German) can help in providing some guidance on how to make personal consumption fair and sustainable
The shadow rapporteurs of Greens and S&D group supported the motion of a binding flagship initiative and proposed integrating the only recently published OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector into EU law. The initiative should also include key occupational safety and health aspects, such as the freedom of association and the consultation of social partners, as was pointed out by the Opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. The Commission's representatives emphasised that sustainable supply chains issues were also part of the planned adaptation of the objectives of the Directorate-General for Trade, which have also been expressed in the Commission’s Communication on “Trade for All”.
In a next step, an attempt will be made to reach a compromise based on the amendments – in particular with the EPP group. Thus far, the EPP group has rejected any binding guidelines by arguing that these would act as a deterrent to European companies and have a negative impact on their competitiveness. Nevertheless, a binding initiative would be essential for the effective implementation and compliance with labour and environmental standards, as consumers cannot contribute to an industry-wide compliance based on their purchasing decisions alone. A binding guideline for the garment industry would be a first step – that should also be pointing the way ahead for dealing with other industries in the long run. The European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ) for example, also promotes the widespread implementation of labour and environmental standards worldwide. The vote on the report in the plenum of the European Parliament is planned to take place before the end of this month.