Fair and Sustainable Textiles


Textile supply chains are notorious for human rights and environmental abuses. Textile factory workers suffer from low wages, long working hours, and limitations to freedom of association and collective bargaining, while both workers and farmers of associated agricultural fibre crops like cotton, obtain very low incomes, and work under conditions of high dependency. Textile production and consumption also have severe impacts on the environment in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, chemical pollution, resource use and the volume of textile waste that is sent to landfill. 

As in the agri-food sector, there are huge concentrations of (buying) power on the level of clothing brands and retailers which allow them to effectively dictate the terms of business. This has led to the proliferation of Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) in the textile sector: last-minute cancellations, low prices, increased time pressure and poor payment terms are common practice. These unfair terms of business, often coupled with weak labour laws in producer countries, create the rampant labour rights abuses mentioned above. The fragmented nature of textile supply chains and the outsourcing of production pose particular challenges for transparency and accountability for these abuses. Read more about UTPs here. 

The urgency to address the many issues faced by workers in the textiles sector – the majority of whom are women – has led the FTAO to focus on fair textiles as an EU advocacy priority.

Our Views

In March 2022 the European Commission published an EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles. The FTAO welcomes this important step as there is an urgent need to address social and environmental issues in the sector. 

However, the EU strategy falls short on the social aspect, particularly on improving working conditions and wages for textile workers, and it does not address the unfair trading practices that are a root cause to many of the urgent problems in the sector (see our press release and civil society reaction). In the response from the European Parliament, it is paramount that these gaps are highlighted, and concrete action is demanded. 

In this regard, the FTAO calls on additional legislation to tackle unfair trading practices in textile supply chains. Since a UTP directive for the agri-food sector already exists, we believe that much inspiration and learning can be drawn from there. In this paper, we outline together with Transform Trade (then Traidcraft Exchange) and IndustriAll Europe how such a legislation should look like. 

Ahead of the EU textile strategy, the FTAO, as part of a broad coalition of civil society organisations, published a non-official (or “shadow”) proposal for anambitious and integrated EU strategy in support of fair and sustainable textile, garments, leather and footwear (TGLF) value chains. In this strategy, we outline the steps that the EU must take to enable a fairer and more sustainable textile industry. 

Further Reading

White Paper: “Fair Thread: Policy Recommendations for a Sustainable Textile Industry”

Civil society joint reaction to the European Parliament report on an EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles

Textile SMEs and young people call for SMEs to be covered by EU due diligence rules

Textile Strategy contains green ambition but forgets workers from the equation – Fair and Sustainable Textiles Coalition reacts to Textile Strategy

Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles

Civil Society European Strategy for Sustainable Textiles, Garments, Leather & Footwear (Summary)

Leveraging the Unfair Trading Practices Directive to benefit the Garment Sector (FTAO,Traidcraft Exchange and IndustriAll)

Wardrobe Change position paper – Recommendations for the EU Strategy for Sustainable Textiles

FTAO report on Power in the West African cotton sector

ECDPM options paper: Sewing the pieces together: Towards an EU strategy for fair and sustainable textiles

Bailing out the Supply chain (Traidcraft Exchange)

Life on the Margins during the Covid-19 Outbreak (Fashion Revolution)