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European NGOs Want a ‘Fair and Sustainable’ Post-COVID-19 Fashion Sector

As the European Commission is set to develop a “comprehensive” circular strategy for textiles in the coming months, a group of 65 civil society organizations has banded together to propose a vision for a fair and sustainable Textile, Garments, Leather and Footwear (TFLF) sector.

The group, which includes fair trade, human rights and environmental organizations such as Clean Clothes Campaign, the European Environmental Bureau, Fairtrade International, Fashion Revolution, Traidcraft Exchange and the World Fair Trade Organization, is urging the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament and European Union governments to back a strategy designed to “kick-start a global re-design of the textile industry’s broken business model” for a post-pandemic world.

The TGLF sector is typically characterized by fraught working conditions and abject workers’ rights violations fueled by fragmented supply chains, opaque business practices, widespread corruption and power imbalances between suppliers and global buyers, the group said.

Its Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments , Leather and Footwear—an unofficial or “shadow” strategy—seeks to combat this by calling on the EU to promote due diligence legislation at national levels, tackle unfair trading practices, drive extended producer responsibility, push sustainable procurement policies and support circular business models that reduce waste and expand textile reuse.

Companies should be legally obligated to take responsibility not only for their own activities but their entire supply chain, the group said. It also wants to see stricter environmental rules that cover how textile products sold in the EU are designed and produced, put legal and financial responsibility on producers to manage their products at the end of their lives, and develop “meaningful measures” to promote transparency.

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The coalition further asks the EU to make governance reforms and better law enforcement in producing countries, wield legislation to “stimulate” circular design and material efficiency, and leverage its market power through trade policy to strengthen social and environmental production practices, the group said.

Most saliently, in light of the present COVID-19 squeeze on factories, the EU should use its legislative clout to ensure that brands and retailers are legally obligated to honor contracts and end the “culture of unfair purchasing practices” that leads to canceled orders, unpaid workers and piles of unsellable products, the coalition said.

The time for voluntary corporate action has passed, said Sergi Corbalán, executive director of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office.

“Voluntary industry action has failed to bring about a fair and sustainable textile industry, so it’s time for EU leaders to reset the industry’s structure,” Corbalán said in a statement. “This ‘shadow strategy’…is not a menu from which the Commission can pick specific initiatives and leave others behind, but a comprehensive strategy in which taking action in each field reinforces the efforts put into others.”

The proposal comes on the heels of a new, informal alliance by the European Parliament that seeks an EU-wide “green reboot” following the coronavirus crisis.