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Industry Talk

MEPs call for rules to curb worker exploitation in textiles industry

They also advocate introducing EU tariff preferences and labels for sustainably-produced textiles.

24th March 2017

Knitting Industry
 |  Brussels

Knitwear, Knitted Outerwear

“The EU has the means to set common rules that establish mandatory human rights obligations on partner countries and we are asking the Commission to do so. Voluntary initiatives and codes of conduct are always welcome, but citizens expect more. The EU needs new rules to ensure that hard-working people who produce our clothes are treated with dignity and respect worldwide,” said rapporteur Lola Sánchez Caldentey.

Textile workers around the world, many of whom are young women and children, suffer long working hours, low wages, uncertainty, violence and hazardous conditions. These practices also harm the EU industry, as they result in social dumping, MEPs note in a non-binding resolution adopted by 14 votes to 2 with 8 abstentions.


To make the industry more responsible and prevent tragedies like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, MEPs suggest a series of proposals, such as binding due diligence obligations. “The EU Commission should table a legislative proposal for a binding due diligence system, based on OECD guidelines, that covers the whole supply chain; this should focus on women’s and children’s rights and acknowledge existing national initiatives, once they have been audited,” the statement suggests.

In addition, conditional trade preferences were suggested: the EU should ensure that "hot spot” textile exporting countries that have preferential access to the EU market comply with obligations; and the Commission should offer tariff relief for proven sustainable-produced textiles.

MEPs also called for enforcing labour rights and standards, making the “social impact of production” visible on clothes through labelling, and EU institutions and Parliament’s political groups setting a good example in their public procurement of textiles, including merchandising. The full House will vote on the resolution in April.

EU wide flagship initiative

According to World Trade Organisation figures, more than 70% of EU textiles and clothing imports come from Asia, where China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia are the largest producers. Most buyers are global brands looking for low prices and tight production timeframes. They make frequent changes to product design, volume and timeframes, and place last-minute orders without accepting increased costs or adjustments to delivery dates. The consequences usually fall upon factory workers.

After the Rana Plaza tragedy, in which over 1,100 people died when a factory building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, many national initiatives started, including a draft French law on mandatory due diligence, a UK anti-slavery bill, a Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Textile and Garment, and a German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles.

The EU Commission promised to bring forward an EU wide flagship initiative, but has so far failed to do so. With this resolution, the EP wants to encourage the Commission to table this package of proposals.

Further reading

Rana Plaza tragedy: Do you know who made your clothes?

Sustainable consumer choices on the rise?

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