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Brands Call for Post-COVID-19 Green Plan, Protection for Garment Manufacturers

Fashion retailers such as H&M are participating in global calls to protect garment manufacturing businesses and rebuild a greener post-COVID-19 future.

The high-street juggernaut is among a slate of companies that have backed a new, informal alliance by the European Parliament calling for a European Union-wide “green reboot” following the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by France’s Pascal Canfin, who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on environment and public health, the so-called Green Recovery Alliance rallies 180 political decision-makers from 11 countries, 79 Members of the European Parliament, 90 trade union organizations, 28 business associations, seven non-governmental organizations, six think tanks and 37 chief executives to urge Europe to develop a “new model of prosperity” based on a transition to a climate-neutral economy, the protection of biodiversity and a transformation of the current of agri-food system.

“This is not a matter of creating a new economy from scratch,” the alliance said in a statement. “We already have all the tools and many new technologies.”

Much progress has been made within the past decade that can “dramatically” reduce the cost of the transition, it pointed out.

“Ten years ago, zero-emission vehicles were only a prototype,” the alliance said. “Ten years ago, wind energy was three times more expensive than it is today, and solar energy seven times. Ten years ago, we had not carried out renovation work on buildings showing that this action is profitable.”

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And political will, through initiatives such as the European Green New Deal and other national zero-carbon development plans, already exists.

“We need to prepare Europe for the future, and design recovery plans, both at the national and at the EU level, enshrining the fight against climate change as the core of the economic strategy,” it said. “The time has come to turn these plans into actions and investments that will change the life of citizens and contribute to the quick recovery of our economies and our societies.”

Despite the pandemic’s economic squeeze, resistance to further investments in a climate-neutral future is “not the way forward,” the alliance said, calling for the establishment of “green recovery investment packages” to accelerate the shift to a healthier planet.

“COVID-19 will not make climate change and nature degradation go away,” the group said. “We will not win the fight against COVID-19 without a solid economic response. Let’s not oppose those two battles, but let’s fight and win them at the same time. By doing so, we will only be stronger together.”

H&M is also among brands such as Adidas, C&A, the International Apparel Federation, Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Primark, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Tchibo, VF Corp., Under Armour and Zalando that have thrown their support behind a call to action by the International Labour Organization to help garment manufacturers survive the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis while protecting garment workers’ incomes, health and employment.

The effort is being supported by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), IndustriAll Global Union and the Bangladesh Employers’ Federation.

The stakeholders are urging the industry to work with governments and financial institutions to mobilize sufficient funding to “enable manufacturers to ensure business continuity” by securing payment of wages, along with income-support and job-retention schemes that address the impact of the crisis.

“The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this critical industry requires a global response,” IOE Secretary-General Roberto Suárez Santos said in a statement. “IOE joins this call for action with the aim of supporting business continuity as well as the livelihoods of workers in the garment industry during this disruptive period. This is a voluntary initiative that focuses on mobilizing collective action. It is not aiming to disregard stakeholders, companies and organization that might not be able to join.”

Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, says she hopes this will be a “collective and collaborative platform” where businesses across the globe will “come forward to address the immediate crisis so that the lives and livelihoods of the millions of workers can be protected thereby allowing the RMG industry to sustain the challenges and come out with renewed resilience.”

According to Workers Rights Consortium’s COVID-19 tracker, H&M, Inditex, Marks & Spencer, PVH Corp. and VF Corp. have committed to paying suppliers in full for completed and in-production orders, while C&A and Primark have not.

Primark announced Monday, however, that it is now able to pay 370 million pounds ($455 million) for additional product orders it had originally planned to cancel. The retailer says it will now be taking all of the in-production and finished product planned for shipment by April 17, albeit with extended payment terms on some orders. Its pledge to create a workers’ fund recently came after fire for confusing stipulations and amounting to a portion of the value of the orders it had canceled by invoking the force majeure contract clause.