A recent event by The Industry We Want (TIWW), an initiative launched by Fair Wear in January together with the Ethical Trading Initiative, was well attended, showing that the initiative’s goal – bringing industry stakeholders together to work on better labour conditions in the garment industry – is shared by many.
The event, which was jointly hosted by the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fair Wear Foundation, attracted more than 270 attendees across the supply chain and featured a diverse set of speakers including Nazma Yesmin, from the Bangladesh Institute for Labour Studies; Bulent Alkanli from the Turkish Clothing Manufacturers’ Association; business and human rights specialist Olivia Windham-Stewart; the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Jeremy Lardeau; and Dorothy Lovell from the OECD.
The meeting on the 23rd of June started with hosts Pierre Hupperts and Ama van Dantzig sharing an overview of the achievements after the kick-off event in January: Many constructive conversations were held with a variety of key industry stakeholders, including focus groups and one-to-one conversations with workers, suppliers and trade union representatives in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Bulgaria and North Macedonia. Around 200 additional stakeholders joined six open-door working sessions to explore key areas and possibilities for measuring and driving progress.
The Industry We Wants presents three focus areas and 12 key metrics
The result was the decision on three focus areas with twelve key metrics, which were announced at Wednesday’s event, four each for the three central pillars social, environmental and commercial, intended to create a more common conversation and being indicative of wider, systemic change in the sector.
“This is the only initiative in the clothing and footwear industry that looks at social, environmental and commercial with equal prominence, placing particular emphasis on commercial practices as key to unlocking social and environmental progress”, says TIWW.
For the social pillar, four indicators were presented: wages, remedy, social protection and collective bargaining agreement (CBA) coverage. The environmental pillar will focus on water, chemicals, waste and greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the commercial pillar will look at purchasing practices, profit margin/value distribution, risk sharing/buyer power and inequality.
Panelists stress alignment and holistic approach
A common theme from panelists was the need to take a holistic approach to the three pillars in order to realise the ambitions of the SDGs, with a recognition that it is often changes in commercial practices that can support improvements to social and environmental conditions impacted by supply chains.
Bulent Alkanli, managing director of Istanbul-based sourcing office Perseus Ltd and elected board member of the Turkish Clothing Manufacturer’s Association, stressed the pressure experienced by suppliers due to very short lead times. “This has an effect on workers and the value chain as a whole. Instead, we need equal value distribution, which is achieved through equal contracts and fair wages,” he says.
Nazma Yesmin, director of the Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), pointed to the fact that there is currently no national minimum wage in the country. Garment workers earn on average about 8,000 taka per month (roughly 90 US dollars) but about 332 US dollars would be required as a living wage. “The social protection mechanism is low,” she says, which is apparent during the current Covid-19 pandemic. “We need financial assistance during Covid, a stipend for children’s education among others to build an ethical, inclusive and sustainable industry,” says Yesmin.
Living wages are key
Kristina Ampeva, president of the Citizens Association of Textile, Leather and Shoe Workers in North Macedonia agreed. Asked what a better industry would look like, she also mentioned living wages, along with a pleasant working atmosphere, respecting the laws of a country and a more caring way of doing business in general.
Commenting on the industry’s environmental challenges, Jeremy Lardeau, vice president of the Higg Index at the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), said that tracking progress is important,but also keeping an eye on the industry’s footprint. “We need industry-wide standards to track and then need to gauge what the impact is,” he said.
German supply chain law as a blueprint for EU
Sebastian Herold, senior policy officer at the sustainable textiles supply chains and sustainable consumption unit of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), talked about the new supply chain act adopted in Germany on the 11th of June, which will be in effect after two years. First, it will apply to companies with more than 3,000 workers and one year later to companies with more than 1,000 workers. “This is a big step to ensure better human rights projection along the supply chain,” said Herold.
Asked why the German government decided to move ahead and why in this sector, Juergen Janssen, program director at the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), said that the idea was to send the message that companies have a responsibility for their entire supply chain. Now, a similar law is to be applied to the EU as well and collaboration is on the way.
In terms of the recent Covid-19 crisis and the Rana Plaza tragedy, Janssen emphasised learning from the events, pointing to Winston Churchill’s famous quote “never let a good crisis go to waste”. “The boat has been rocked; now we need to decide if we want to go back to old models or if it is time for change, collaboration? Many Organisations are trying to use this window of opportunity for change,” Janssen said.
The next milestone for The Industry We Want is a hybrid online/offline event in February 2022 (Covid permitting), timed to take place alongside the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector.