The 4th of July may be Independence Day for the United States, but now it has been named as a “historical day” for the fashion industry and a step towards a more sustainable and ethical future.
55 fashion companies and industry organisations sign covenant for sustainability
“Today marks a great milestone for us, but more importantly for the thousands of workers, who are mostly women, in the fashion industry,” said Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development. On Monday morning 55 fashion companies, and non-profit trade organisations such as Solidaridad, Unicef Nederland, Stop Child Labour and Four Paws, trade unions and the Dutch government came together to sign a binding agreement for sustainable fashion and textile, the first of its kind.
“Today marks a great milestone for us, but more importantly for the thousands of workers, who are mostly women, in the fashion industry"
The covenant, which is endorsed by the likes of Made-By, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Fair Wear Foundation, is the first of many international corporate social responsibility agreements initiated around the world to help transform the fashion industry into an eco-friendly, ethical and sustainable sector as soon as possible. The signing ceremony of the covenant comes 3 months after the covenant was first penned, as the trade organisations and goverment aimed to have at least 35 fashion companies enter the binding agreement. In the end over 50 fashion companies committed to the sustainablility clothing covenant, including G-Star Raw, C&A and Hunkemoller, which together account for over a third of the Dutch fashion market turnover, equal to 3,5 billion euros.
These “pioneer companies”, as Pierre Huppert, the Chairman of Negotiations has called them, have pledged to tackle poor working conditions in manufacturing countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey. They have also pledged to offer factory workers protection from discrimination, eradicate child labour and forced labour, improve animal welfare, pay living wages and ensure safe working conditions in addition to cutting down on water, chemical and energy usage and working more sustainably.
80 percent of Dutch fashion industry to sign sustainability agreement by 2020
During the signing ceremony, over 75 signatures from the participating companies and organisations were collected on a single white t-shirt, signifying their dedicated and committed to the agreement and each other. “[The fashion industry] can be and should be more honest,” said Mariëtte Hamer, chairman of the Social-Economic Council (SER). “We need to make the industry more sustainable, eco-friendly, animal cruelty-free, child labour free and safe for all workers and I believe we can work together to do something about these issues. Companies who manufacture and purchase goods abroad in these countries have an influence on the suppliers that no one else has and we can stimulate this coming together so that in a few years it’s better for everyone.” SER aims to see half of the Dutch fashion and textile industry sign the agreement by 2018, and 80 percent by 2020.
Over the next coming years, each company which signed the agreement will work on a number of sustainability goals, which they may or may not achieve individually. The companies will develop an annual plan of action with concrete goals, based on a study of their own supply chain and potential risks. An independent secretary, taken on be SER, will then judge each company’s plan of action. Trade organizations and NGO’s which signed the agreement will offer their support and knowledge to the fashion companies and their local manufacturers on how to best implement change and offer additional aid from their local partners. Companies which fail to meet their goal will be held accountable by a special commission.
The Dutch government is set to start working together with local governments in manufacturing countries to develop binding regulations, such as strengthening labour and factory inspections. “Everyone should have the right to unionise, to work in safe conditions, have equal rights and earn a livable wage,” said Ploumen. “However, at the moment it remains quite the task enforcing this throughout the industry and we can not do it alone. So we are doing it together.” The government also aims to ensure that the covenant works together with similar international initiatives, so that one day it can be scaled up and become a European approach to sustainability within the fashion and textile industries.
“Everyone should have the right to unionise, to work in safe conditions, have equal rights and earn a livable wage"
“Together we can set the best example for the Dutch fashion industry as well as the international fashion industry as long as we keep holding on to each and keep moving forward,” added Hamer. As part of the covenant, each signing company will publish an annual report of what they have achieved in terms of their goals, and from the third year onwards each individual company will be asked to separately published their own report, to ensure transparency amongst companies and consumers.
Although it will take a matter of years before consumers are able to walk into any high street store and be assured that their garment of choice was made in a safe, sustainable and ethical way, the sustainable clothing and textile covenant is a step in the right direction. “Our job is to help consumers make the right choice when they are out shopping, as they do not have the time or motivation to look this up for themselves” pointed out Ploumen. “We need to ensure that in the future consumers do not need to think about how and where their clothing is made but can be free to carelessly shop how and when they want.”
“I can’t wait to start transforming the covenant into real steps,” added Huppert. “Although we have already taken the first steps by creating and signing the agreement, the journey is long.”