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 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.
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.
There is an urgent need for an EU Strategy to address social and environmental abuses in the textile sector.
The FTAO, in partnership with Oxfam-Magasins du monde and the World Fair Trade Organization-Europe, commissioned a study and discussion paper from the think tank ECDPM. The discussion paper offers an overview of the EU’s policy options for developing an ambitious and integrated strategy in support of fair and sustainable textile supply chains.
Following on from this paper, the FTAO came together with a coalition of civil society organisations to work on a non-official (or “shadow”) proposal for an ambitious and integrated EU strategy in support of fair and sustainable textile, garments, leather and footwear (TGLF) value chains. In this strategy, supported by over fifty organizations, we outline the steps that the EU must take to create a fairer and more sustainable textile industry.
The FTAO welcomes the EU’s recent commitment to a comprehensive textile strategy in the Circular Economy Action Plan. We hope that comprehensive, in this case, will mean that this strategy addresses both the social and the environmental impacts of the textile sector.