08. May 2019
On February 20th and 21st, 2019, an expert conference on Sustainable Supply Chains was held in the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Berlin. BLUESIGN was invited to this event and was represented by Dr. Thomas Schäfer. After the Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller, and the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Hubertus Heil, gave keynote speeches, in which the overarching question of how legal provisions can ensure that human rights, social and environmental standards are met by companies throughout the global supply chain was addressed.
The textile industry, alongside cacao and conflict minerals, came to the forefront. Opportunities for as well as the limits on mandatory approaches for implementing due diligence for companies in the textiles sector were critically evaluated. Specifically, the regulatory content and the scope of the law, the legal consequences of non-compliance, and additional measures were identified. A smart mix of mandatory and voluntary measures was commonly identified as the best approach.
While intending to refer to existing, binding human rights instruments, the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, published in 2011 by the Human Rights Council, is based on three pillars:
- The state’s obligation to protect human rights
- The business’ responsibility with regard to respecting those human rights, and
- Access to effective remedy.
In September 2017, the German government developed a National Action Plan (NAP) which shall make the UN guiding principles more applicable in the future by demonstrating obligations and responsibilities for the state and economy and by ensuring policy coherence and the competitiveness and sustainability of the German economy.
France provides an example of implementing such a national action plan. With the Loi de Vigilance, France, the first country in Europe to do so, established via national law a mandatory mechanism for due diligence in 2017. Since then, French companies with more than 5,000 employees in France or 10,000 employees worldwide have to develop a precautionary plan for complying with their duty of care. The plan must:
- demonstrate how the companies ensure that human rights and the environment are respected along their entire supply chain
- describe efforts to establish a fundamental approach for identifying, analyzing and hierarchically structuring risks
- identify appropriate actions to reduce risks, prevent severe violations, and establish a warning mechanism for potential risks
In the German context, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (Textilbündnis) represents a suitable platform for implementing voluntary measures. However, it was reported that ‘only’ 50% of the German stakeholders signed up for the partnership. Currently, 7,000 companies are being monitored across all sectors of industry.
It was announced that the German government will pass mandatory measures regarding supply chain management should this monitoring conclude that voluntary measures will not be effective enough.
On the second day, the workshop “Different approaches to implementing corporate due diligence obligations in the textiles sector: a smart mix?” addressed the following questions:
- Which mandatory and voluntary approaches and initiatives currently exist (producer countries, consumer countries, international level)?
- How successful are the different approaches?
- What are the pros and cons of the different approaches and initiatives? What are the opportunities and limits of mandatory and voluntary approaches?
- Are the different approaches well coordinated and linked to one another in a good way?
- Is this a smart mix of approaches? What could a useful and effective mix of different approaches look like? How could it be achieved?
- What should the German government do to promote a smarter mix of mandatory and voluntary measures?
It was commonly agreed that voluntary standards and systems ensure companies fulfill their requirements faster than legislators and go beyond a minimal level. However, by creating a common and widespread level playing field, mandatory measures are certainly welcome.
Conclusively, the voluntary approach of the bluesign® system based on stringent criteria illustrates a supportive instrument to drive sustainability in the textile industry. Services like the bluesign® brand assessment, gap analysis, and the road maps based around the bluesign brand criteria illustrate an important and effective tool for brands to improve their supply chain management constantly by reporting what is actually happening.