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German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles and Minimum Standards Gain Importance and Increased Global Reach

Hong Kong traders of consumer goods destined for the EU market may recall that on 12 October 2016, at the occasion of the European Parliament’s “Fair Trade Breakfast” in Brussels, the EU Commissioner for Trade, Ms. Cecilia Malmström, delivered a speech with an update on various movements aimed at achieving ‘fair and ethical’ trade conditions (see: EU Trade Commissioner Reiterates EU’s Commitment to Promoting Global “Fair and Ethical” Trade Conditions and Support for Fair Trade Schemes). The Trade Commissioner reiterated the EU’s commitment to promote global ‘fair’ trade and support of individual fair trade schemes and initiatives.

In light of the Trade Commissioner’s speech, Hong Kong’s textile traders may like to be kept abreast of the increased global outreach of one of these fair trade schemes, i.e. Germany’s ‘Partnership for Sustainable Textiles', which affects both the German textiles industry and its supply chain both within Europe and beyond. Hong Kong’s textile traders may recall that the 'Partnership for Sustainable Textiles' was created in October 2014 at the initiative of the German government, more specifically the German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mr. Gerd Müller.

The primary objective of the Partnership is to create and implement minimum social, environmental and economic standards throughout the entire textiles and clothing supply chain, “from the cotton field to the clothes hanger”. The members of the Textile Partnership are companies active in the textile and clothing sector in Germany, trade unions and civil society representatives, which have committed to adhere to and work towards implementing minimum standards to be adopted by the Partnership.

By initiating this Partnership, the German government sought to establish a new approach to regulation. Instead of imposing laws on the industry in a top-down manner, the German government relies on the voluntary adherence of the industry and relevant stakeholders to the minimum standards to be established by the Partnership.

The Textile Partnership’s field of action has an environmental, social and economic dimension. The Partnership’s objectives are set out in an Action Plan, which was revised in April 2015. In the first months after the creation of the Partnership, only apparel companies whose brands are already strongly identified with environmental and social aspects had joined the Partnership as members. The German textile industry’s key players, such as Adidas, Puma and H&M, were reluctant to join the Partnership, which resulted in the German press voicing concerns that the Partnership might not be successful. However, Hong Kong’s textile exporters may like to know that matters have changed significantly: by the end of 2015, the membership of the Textile Partnership increased to about 160 members, which, according to the Partnership, account for almost 50% of the German textile market based on revenues.

In addition to the German associations representing the textile industry (such as the textiles and fashion industry association “Gesamtverband Textil+Mode”), a number of large companies and retailers active in the supply of textiles and clothing, such as the ADIDAS Group, H&M, C&A, PUMA, KiK, ALDI, REWE Group, EDEKA, TCHIBO and LIDL, have now joined the Textile Partnership.

In accordance with the Partnership’s Action Plan, the members have undertaken to pursue the objectives of the Partnership with a view to achieving its standards. They have agreed that their efforts to pursue the social, environmental and economic objectives of the Partnership will be reviewed regularly by independent third parties. When reviewed, the progress made by Partnership members and by the Partnership itself will be assessed, and any problems in implementation will be identified. If a member fails to make progress in achieving the objectives of the Partnership, it will have to provide adequate justification for such failure. Otherwise, sanctions can be imposed, which may ultimately lead to the exclusion of the member from the Textile Partnership.

The Textile Partnership has set up specialist groups to further its objectives, including a group dealing with chemicals. A list of hazardous chemicals that are to be avoided in the textiles supply chain has been approved by the Partnership. Another specialist group is dealing with wages in the textiles industry.

In the medium term, the Partnership aims to develop a new social label for textiles.

Hong Kong businesses should further be aware that the “internationalisation” of the Textile Partnership’s minimum standards has been declared as one of the Partnership’s key objectives. The Partnership members have endeavored to work towards achieving common standards at European and also at international level, through international agreements, with a view to preventing the distortion of competition and create a level playing field for companies active in the global textiles supply chain.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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