At the occasion of the European Year for Development in 2015, the Commission is exploring the idea of launching an EU flagship initiative on responsible management of the supply chain in the garment sector, which would involve several Directorates General within the Commission and the European External Action Service, I was invited as a member of the EESC to represent civil society having been the EESC rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility.
The issue of responsible supply chains touches upon several aspects of sustainable development ranging from safety at work, the use of chemicals, child labour, to 'living wages' and collective rights, including enforcement of appropriate national legislation and of international standards and commitments as well as many others issues more directly linked to the sustainable competitiveness of the EU companies involved in such supply chains. It is being proposed because it is close to citizens' concerns and expectations, partly due to the increased attention given to this issue following the tragedy of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April 2013, which revealed serious shortcomings in the occupational safety and labour conditions of Bangladeshi workers in the garment industry. These types of concerns are of course not limited to Bangladesh.
The questions we were asked to keep in mind were:
- What are your suggestions to progress towards more responsible supply chains in the garment sector (lessons learnt)?
- What are your expectations in terms of actions to be undertaken under an EU flagship initiative and on the issues that could be tackled?
Around 250 people participated from all stakeholders, especially private sector and international organisations
Opening by the Chair, Klaus Rudischhauser, Deputy Director-General of DG Development and Cooperation – described background and objectives of stakeholder group. Essential that there is collaboration and fragmentation of initiatives is prevented.
The proposed objectives of this flagship initiative would be:
- to increase awareness and support for the need to foster responsible management of the supply chain in the garment sector, and to enhance the interest for better information and the understanding of the European consumers,
- to improve communication on relevant EU actions on strengthening sustainable development in partner countries and in the global supply chain,
- to launch an inclusive and participatory consultation process (possibly through a multi-stakeholder platform) gathering all stakeholders,
- to encourage better coordination between all relevant actors already active in this area (Commission services and EEAS, other EU institutions, EU Member States, national governments in partner countries, private sector, CSOs, local authorities, trade unions, international organisations, etc),
- to build on EU added value and stimulate all actors to step up efforts in order to develop a response at EU level, via an optimal use of EU instruments, policies and dialogue mechanisms, promoting notably an effective implementation of existing international guidelines, standards and initiatives in the garment sector, including by encouraging and supporting developing countries to sign up to and implement international standards and conventions, by fostering responsible supply chain management by the private and public sector, and by strengthening global governance (with ILO, OECD, UN and others) on these issues. This initiative should contribute to reinforce sustainable competitiveness of the sector.
This EU flagship initiative would be complementary with the implementation of the Communication on Private Sector development adopted in May 2014 and with the review of the EU strategy on Corporate Social Responsibility in preparation. The European Year for Development is an opportunity to showcase the initiatives undertaken by EU and to engage with citizens.
The objective of the informal meeting was to share experience and good practices, gather ideas and knowledge, explore positions and possible options on this issue and on the possible EU flagship initiative. However he was very clear the objective for this meeting is not for new legislation.
Introduction of the EU approach on a possible EU garment flagship initiative in the context of the European Year for Development in 2015: overview of existing EU activities in this area by Commission representatives from several DGs and services
Most of the workers in the sector are women, under the Latvian Presidency and Year of Development gender equality is a priority and therefore this initiative is particularly relevant.
Representatives from DGs Enterprise, Environment, Internal market, Trade EEAS all gave their input on the relevance of this initiative to EU at this time. Marco Curavic particularly defined the importance of the issue in terms of the 2015-2020 CSR agenda
Sharing experience and knowledge: presentations from stakeholders
Questions to be answered:
What has worked and why? Could you share concrete examples of successful initiatives which could be replicated?
What hasn't worked and why? Could you share examples and explain the main obstacles and challenges identified based on your experience?
Business speakers :
- Described how changes have rapidly and consistently taken place especially in the areas of health and safety, factory inspections, factory closures, protection of workers and workers conditions. This also included the establishment of consultation mechanisms with labour, manufacturers and retailers were now being established.
- EU SMEs need to be more included in the process
- Compensation still outstanding for victims.
- Collaboration has been the key to success – this was the value of the Accord. Voluntary measures don’t work – legal enforcement essential
- Women empowerment all key, due to the high numbers of women in the process
- Complex situation - need more collaboration …EU should facilitate this – this included more discussions with trade unions and civil society
- EU Brand reputations at stake – their CSR and their principles will be challenged. Codes of conducts and social auditing have not improved situation but through collaboration and negotiation conditions are improving , especially in terms of trade union influence. ( Fair Play Alliance)
- IDH – The Sustainable Trade initiative – focus on sustainable trade through private /public multistakeholder coalitions. Driving system change in Vietnam.
- All system actors on board
- Build a business rationale in the system
- Making interventions that are scaleable. – review system/resource/process – is it feasible for sharing
- Due diligence , especially in the context of supply chain and human rights , needs to be strengthened.
- Social auditing in general is not working and adds no value
- Analysis of “fair” clothing cannot be clarified and certification is misleading ( Fair Wear Foundation)
- Training from business associations/CSR europe on business and human rights and how to ensure it is in business processes.
- Common language needs to be used
The afternoon session was workshops with the purpose of gathering suggestions and ideas, and identifying next steps.