Partnership for sustainable Textiles: The Path is the Goal
Interview with Dr Jürgen Janssen, Head of the Partnership’s Secretariat: Following the initial discovery phase, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, created in 2014 on the initiative of German Development Minister Gerd Müller, is now in its second year of implementation. For the members, this is quite a challenge, because it involves rethinking a lot of processes within existing procedures. The Cotton Report editors spoke with Dr Jürgen Janssen in his capacity as Head of the Partnership’s Secretariat.
Dr Janssen: What is the result of the work carried out so far?
Dr Jürgen Janssen: The aim of the Textile Partnership is to achieve significant and verifiable improvements in the ecological, social and economic conditions in textile supply chains. For this, the members have set themselves both binding and voluntary verifiable goals and are creating transparency in the progress of achieving these goals. The Textile Partnership is the first initiative that has translated the concept of corporate due diligence for an industry and thus made it feasible. For example, we have over 100 roadmaps for 2018 with more than 1,300 specific, targeted measures. Our second pillar, the Partnership’s initiatives in producing countries, is also developing. In addition, we are establishing the Partnership step-by-step as the learning and dialogue platform for sustainability in the textile and clothing industry in Germany.
What is the current membership structure? In your opinion, what is the reason why essential parts of the important medium-sized textile and clothing industry and, above all, the clothing retail trade are missing?
The Textile Partnership is a multi-stakeholder initiative with around 130 members from business, politics, civil society, trade unions and professional organisations. In terms of the top 100 textile retailers, the members cover around half of the German textile market. Certainly, we would like to see more companies from the medium-sized clothing industry and retail sector joining the Partnership. We are in discussion with many of them. We are convinced that more members will be won as the Partnership’s practice continues to make the entrepreneurial benefits of participation in the Partnership clearer.
The first phase of the adoption of the list of objectives was completed at the end of 2016, i.e. after two years. What made the finding process so tedious?
In view of the different expectations of individual groups concerning the goals and tasks at the launch of the Textile Partnership, the process did not take that long, even compared to other industry initiatives. The time was necessary. Of course, the discussions were often difficult for one group or another. Ultimately, however, the intensive exchange of arguments within and between the groups has led to a sustainable consensus in the specification of the requirements, which provides a good basis for the continued work of the Partnership.
With the publication of the members’ action plans, the Partnership has entered the important implementation phase. How would you summarise the key elements?
The members have defined their individual status quo and the starting point for further activities and, on this basis, submitted action plans – the roadmaps – for achieving binding as well as voluntary goals. Goal tracking progress is now reported on a yearly basis. The goals relate to, for example, knowledge of their own supply chain, prevention of child labour, substitution of hazardous chemicals, payment of living wages and the use of sustainable natural fibres. These are addressed with a total of more than 1,300 concrete measures.
What common Partnership initiatives are there? What is their purpose?
In addition to the review process, the Partnership initiatives are the most important tool to jointly achieve improvements in supply chains. Currently, there are two Partnership initiatives ongoing. In Southern Indian Tamil Nadu, social standards are systematically being established in textile factories with a special focus on spinning mills, thereby improving working conditions for women and young girls in particular.
There is also an initiative to reinforce the sustainable management of chemicals and the environment in the textile sector in Asia. Here, hazardous chemicals that are still used in the wet processes of textile production are being substituted and occupational safety is improved.
An initiative to promote living wages is in preparation, which we are pushing forward together with the ACT Initiative (Action Collaboration Transformation). This aims to use international synergies to promote living wages in the textile and clothing industry.
How do you assess the work of the natural fibre group?
The natural fibre group has focused on cotton growing and ginning, as well as the procurement of cotton. Of course, here too it was a question of discussing the different expectations of NGOs on the one hand, and of trade and industry on the other, to reach a consensus on the objectives based on a broad basis of information. Together, the members have set themselves the goal that by 2020, at least 35% of all purchased cotton throughout the Partnership will come from sustainable sources, including organic cotton.
Which cotton production methods do you consider sustainable?
According to the Partnership’s catalogue of goals, cotton can also be regarded as sustainably produced, even if it does not come from organically certified cultivation. Many initiatives are concerned with the further development of conventional cotton growing. Here, as with all target fixing, the Partnership’s sustainability requirements must also be met and proven. Third party verification is essential, and the Partnership has recognised several standard systems for verification management.
Can a German textile partnership be successful without embedding its rules in an international context?
Of course, it was important for the Partnership to put its aims and requirements into concrete terms. In doing so, we orientated ourselves very early on the OECD’s guidelines on corporate due diligence and sustainability in the textile and clothing sector. On this basis, we are establishing and maintaining contacts with international organisations and expanding our networks step by step. At the beginning of the year, for example, we entered into a cooperation agreement with the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textiles (AGT), which also includes associate membership in the two partnerships.
As part of our collaboration with the globally leading Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), we are also promoting the harmonisation of corporate due diligence. Moreover, we are working on reducing toxic chemicals with the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals Initiative (ZDHZ) and on international projects for living wages with Action Collaboration Transformation (ACT). Therefore, we can no longer speak of a purely national orientation.
Thank you for the interview!
The interviews in the column “Question Time“ embody the opinion of the respective interview partner and do not represent the position of the Bremen Cotton Exchange as neutral, independent institution.