Following the four-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, the European Commission is taking additional steps to foster more sustainable supply chains in the global garment industry.
On Wednesday, the EU presented a commission staff working document (SWD) that highlighted the industry’s economic, environmental and social challenges and its development cooperation solutions for supply chain issues, including unsafe working conditions and exploitation.
After assessing these problems, the EU noted three thematic priorities: women’s economic empowerment, decent work and living wages, and supply chain transparency. By providing financial support, promoting social and environmental best practices and raising awareness among consumers, the EU can support better practices in global apparel supply chains and protect garment workers in the future.
As a core component of the EU’s Gender Action Plan 2016-2020, women’s economic empowerment is a top priority for EU development policy. Today, roughly 75 percent of global garment workers are women and most don’t have the option of advancing their roles in factories. Only a very small percentage of women hold management or supervisory positions and there is a lack of long-term capacity building in some apparel production countries. The EU Gender Action Plan is working to change that in the coming years by providing professional training to female garment workers and requiring facilities to adhere to Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) standards.
Advocating for better pay for garment workers is another high priority for the EU. In coordination with human rights organizations, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), the EU is working to bring more global conventions on human and labor rights and good governance to nations involved in the global apparel industry. What’s more, the EU supports other multilateral programs, including the G7 Vision Zero Fund, which works to reduce the number of work-related accidents in developing nations and promotes decent working standards.
Supply chain traceability is the third of the EU’s key priorities. Illegitimate subcontracting, along with fragmented production remains prevalent in the global apparel supply chain. The EU remains highly involved with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and recently advised the OCED Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. Released in February, the guideline suggests how apparel companies can better identify and prevent potential harmful impacts in their supply chains, including unethical sourcing and worker mistreatment.
Providing financial report remains crucial for the EU’s sustainable supply chain efforts. The EU is currently funding several major garment-specific flagships, including the Global Public Goods and Challenges thematic program. With a contribution of $17.9 million for the project, the EU will improve working conditions in garment factories, minimize forced labor in raw materials production and enhance awareness on supply chain transparency on a global scale. The EU also recently funded $10.9 million to the European Commission-International Trade Center (ITC) partnership, which strengthens fashion value chains and garment jobs in Burkina Faso and Mali.
The EU will also continue to promote social and environmental best practices for apparel supply chains. Ongoing efforts include the EU funded social dialogue joint project, which developed a CSR Risk Assessment Tool for responsible supply chain management and the EU’s RESYNTEX research project, which boosts the production of secondary raw materials from used textiles.
Consumers, who are also essential to the global garment supply chain, will be part of the EU’s mission, too. The region will continue to host related events, including the High-level Conference and the European Development Days (EDDs) in Brussels, so that consumers can join the conversation on ethical supply chain management and responsible consumption. Other initiatives, including the EU Ecolabel for textile products and footwear, will also inform consumers about supporting sustainable fashion and empowering workers when they buy apparel goods.