The G7 Fashion Pact, as presented by Kering chief François-Henri Pinault at Biarritz, France, last month, broadly covers a lot of ground: climate change, ocean protection and biodiversity. But activists say it’s also missing an essential piece—labor.
“The [3 trillion]-dollar garment industry has the potential to lift millions of garment workers out of poverty,” wrote the Fair Wear Foundation, an Amsterdam-based multi-stakeholder organization that works to improve labor conditions in factories. “Yet, many workers are still paid below minimum wage and are often unwilling to address their management for fear of reprisals. They are also the ones directly affected by climate change, live in the areas most polluted by the industry and have little choice but to work in factories as the ecosystems around them suffer.”
The voluntary nature of the pledge—which has been taken up by 32 companies representing 150 brands, including Adidas, Burberry, Chanel, Gap, H&M, Nike, Nordstrom and Prada—is also a sticking point for labor-alliance groups such as the Netherlands-headquartered Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), which says that while it welcomes the intentions behind the pledge, the time for non-binding, non-legislated promises is over.
“Despite many fine promises, both the ecological and human-rights footprints of the fashion industry [have] increased dramatically over the last decades,” Ben Vanpeperstraete, lobby and advocacy coordinator at the CCC, said in a statement. “Therefore, the implementation of environmental and social standards in the supply chain requires a coherent set of accountable and enforceable measures. This should happen within a legal framework for companies’ human-rights and environmental due diligence.”
The G7 Fashion Pact, the campaign argues, needs to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by setting up a “framework of transparency, monitoring and accountability” with clearly defined and ambitious entry conditions for its signatories.
The CCC would like to see companies admitted into the Pact only if they can prove they align with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s guidelines, including “measures to implement the International Labour Organisation core labor standards, preventive measures against gender-specific violence and measures that lead to wage increases aiming to reach living wages.”
Signatories should also “review and modify” their business models, supply chain and often-predatory purchasing policies in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles and ensure “at a minimum” that prices paid to suppliers allow the payment of living wages to workers. They must also “be a leader’ in transparency and accountability by publicly disclosing factory-level information about their supply chains in line with the Transparency Pledge Coalition standard as an “absolute minimum.” To demonstrate progress toward their pledges, signatories should publicly disclose audit reports in a machine-readable, downloadable format.
“The G7 Fashion deal can contribute greatly to the UN Guiding Principles if it develops its activity within the framework set by these rules and strives for an ambitious design [that] strengthens the transparency and accountability of the Guiding Principles,” Vanpeperstraete said.
Kering will conduct follow-up meetings in October to confirm more granular pledges, according to the New York Times. At present, overarching goals range from the specific—committing participants to collectively achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and eliminating single-use plastics in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer packaging by 2030—to the nebulous—“supporting” innovation to eliminate microfiber pollution from laundering synthetic materials and developing “wildlife-friendly” approaches to agriculture, mining and forestry.
Stand.earth, an environmental organization based in the United States, called the Pact’s ambitions promising but in need of fleshing out.
“If companies in the Fashion Pact are committed to meeting the targets of the UN Paris Agreement—and saving millions of lives worldwide in the process—they must now work to release quantitative details outlining how they will accomplish these goals,” said Liz McDowell, its director of campaign strategies.