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European Parliament Wants Enforceable Provisions on Textile Trade

On 21 March 2017, the European Parliament’s Committee on Development adopted a Draft Report requesting a Motion for a European Parliament Resolution on an EU flagship initiative in the garment sector. This Draft Report takes account of the importance of global value chains in the garments industry and highlights the existence of a link between those global value chains in the textile sector and the violation of human rights, in particular fundamental labour rights.

The Committee notes that the garments sector is especially prone to human rights violations and labour abuses. This is due to the fact that the different stages of the production process take place in several very distant countries, rendering the monitoring of compliance with fair trade obligations along global value chains more difficult for EU producers. Moreover, the production of clothing is subject to very tight deadlines and the final prices of those products are felt to be particularly low, increasing the risk of labour abuses.

The Committee identifies two key aspects particularly related to the textile industry that need to be urgently tackled by the European institutions, specifically:

(i) Decent work and social standards in the production of clothes, namely, work safety, minimum working conditions, maximum working hours, gender equality and social security coverage; and

(ii) Transparency and traceability in relation to the production process, in particular with respect to labelling.

Since initiatives taken by the private sector have, it is believed, not been effective in improving labour rights in the textile sector, the European Union has launched a number of projects in order to guarantee sustainable and responsible management of global value chains, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, or the 2015 “Trade for All” strategy.

However, the Committee considers that a legally binding institutional framework needs to be approved, and, therefore, it has requested the European Commission to take some urgent measures in this respect.

The first of these proposed measures is the promotion of binding and non-negotiable clauses in relation to, among others, human rights in all Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) being currently negotiated or to be  concluded in the future with EU trading partners.

The Committee has, secondly, invited the Commission to table a legislative proposal which includes binding obligations applicable to the textile sector in order to enhance transparency and traceability.

The proposed obligations that ought to be introduced would include, for instance, due diligence checks, auditing processes or mandatory periodic reports by EU companies which outsource their production to third countries. The aforementioned obligations should be focused on worker health and safety, sustainable production, minimum salaries, gender equality and freedom of association.

According to the parliamentary Committee, these measures would not only facilitate public monitoring of companies’ compliance with the abovementioned standards, but also inform customers of the conditions in which a given piece of clothing has been produced.

The abovementioned obligations should not, feels the parliamentary Committee, only be imposed on producers, since the Committee highlights that the responsibility for any infringement along the supply chain lies not just with the producer but with economic operators in any step of the production process, from the upstream distributor to the downstream last manufacturer or sub-contractor.

Finally, in order to secure EU companies and their trading partners having to comply with their fair trade obligations, the Committee calls on the European Commission to enhance codes of conduct in line with international specifications issued by, for instance, the United Nations or the OECD. It also suggests that the Commission should incentivise companies’ compliance by rewarding those enterprises which ensure and promote sustainability and fairness along the production chain.

The Committee’s Draft Report is now pending approval from the European Parliament sitting in plenary, which is scheduled to debate the proposal on 26 April. The final voting on the Draft Report by the European Parliament is scheduled for 27 April this year.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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