Why Europe’s Garment Policies Matter

Posted on Updated on

Organic_clothing_booth_ISPO_2014_MunichWe know the global garment industry and its long, complicated and often invisible supply chains are a major sustainability challenge. Despite theincredible attention given to this issue both here, and among corporatechampions like Nike, we’re still far from the industry-wide shifts that are necessary to both protect garment workers and ensure the industry reduces its environmental impact.

One opportunity to create this type of wide-scale change is in the European Commission’s Garment Initiative, which aims to support its member governments and other actors in responsibly managing their supply chains. If it goes through, and is as strong as many hope, it could be a huge game-changer for the global garment industry.

At the forefront of the effort to implement strong garment policies in Europe is one of the organizations leading the push for standardization across the industry; the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC). The SAC is a multi-stakeholder initiative started five years ago. It includes dozens of members from the corporate sector, governments and civil society, and its members account for more than a third of the global apparel and footwear market. They are working to bring everyone together to determine a common strategy for achieving what is widely considered imperative – truly sustainable supply chains across the garment and apparel industries.

“Companies have come to the SAC because they want to see a standardized approach to the industry,” said Jason Kibbey, who has served as CEO of SAC since its inception. “It’s not a very controversial issue.”

Still, it is not without challenges. The SAC faced criticism for sometimes being slow in getting all of its members to adopt agreed-upon standards, such as the the Higg Index, an industry-wide sustainable apparel standard, released in July of 2012. Kibbey acknowledged this, while pointing to the inherent challenges in bringing together such a huge, diverse and complex industry.

“If you look at any industry, there is no industry that has agreed to a common sustainability framework and implemented that framework more rapidly than we are,” Kibbey told 3p. “If one that expects that any industry can all agree to what’s important and measure that information and share that information in two or three years, that’s just not possible. It takes time.”

It’s true that SAC’s very existence and breadth make it unique. Beyond working directly with its members to build transparency, part of SAC’s work also means pushing for effective government and multinational standards. This is why Europe’s Garment Initiative is so important. Making progress will not be easy. The European Union is a complex beast and brings together diverse countries with widely different agendas.

Even on apparel, several EU member-nations, such as Germany and theNetherlands, are working on developing their own standards. Nothing is yet set in stone — and the next few months will be key, Kibbey told us.

“Right now there is a significant policy discussion going on, and considerable debate on what is the best way to move forward,” Kibbey said.

That size may be a challenge, but it is also a huge opportunity. The EU is the largest consumer market in the world, with a population of over 800 million covering mostly developed, consumer-demand-driven economies across Europe. As we’ve seen with other supply chains, when one of the largest entities mandates change, quite often, the entire market changes.

“The reason we work a lot with Europe is that we believe what they choose and implement will have a huge influence throughout the world,” Kibbey said. “We would like to see them implement [policies] that are usable and scalable, and lead to environmental and social improvements.”

That means what the EU decides on would impact supply chains, and the availability of sustainable garments here in the United States. Even more promisingly, it could result in real changes in factories in Asia and Africa where many of these garments are produced.

It won’t be easy. But despite the challenges ahead, Kibbey is cautiously optimistic, seeing hope in how so many actors are, at least, talking about how to move forward.

“Though the European Commission is a very complicated organization, there does seem to be general alignment among general stakeholders, policymakers, and even companies on some common goals for standardization of assessment and measurements,” Kibbey told 3p. “If we can build on that common goal, we’ll actually achieve something quite remarkable.”

Depending on what the EU decides, we could be on the cusp of major change in the apparel industry. But one thing is clear: The momentum is on the side of transparency and sustainability in the apparel industry. The sooner, the better.

Image credit: Ordercrazy via Wikimedia Commons

*This story first appeared on The Triple Pundit

You did it! Toxic chemical banned in EU textile imports

Posted on

By Yixiu Wu

Image: Greenpeace
Image: Greenpeace

A huge victory for Detox supporters came out of Europe this week as all EU member states voted to ban the toxic chemical NPE from textile imports. This decision closes a trade loophole that allowed clothing containing dangerous levels of NPE to enter the EU even though the substance is banned from regional manufacturing.

So what exactly is NPE?

Officially known as nonylphenol ethoxylates, NPEs are used in textile production as wetting agents, detergents, and emulsifiers. This toxic chemical then remains in the garment, released once you wash your clothing, breaking down to form toxic nonylphenol (NP). Nonylphenol is a persistent chemical with hormone-disrupting properties that builds up in the food chain and is hazardous even at very low levels.

The wide use of NPE in the textile industry was brought to light by a Greenpeace International report, Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry. Released in 2011, the report initially drew huge media attention, as it pointed out a loophole in the EU’s REACH chemical regulations.

And now it’s banned in the EU?

The EU already bans NPE from use within its borders however it allows garments containing NPE to be imported. This ban will need to be adopted by the European Commission, which should happen in the upcoming weeks and will take effect within five years, allowing the fashion industry ample time to remove NPE from its supply chain.

How will this affect the industry?

Manufacturing countries such as China, rely heavily on their trade relationship with Europe.  For more than a decade, Europe has been China’s number one trade partner and China’s textile production needs that relationship to continue. That said, China’s textile industry needs to be more progressive in identifying and banning harmful chemicals from their products otherwise they will lose a key market.

What’s next?

Hundreds of thousands of supporters have called on high street brands such as Gap, Nike, and Diesel to clean up their supply chain. This is a huge win for a cleaner, toxic free future.

We will continue to monitor this industry’s use of NPE but we still need your help. The Detox campaign is far from won and we need your support if we are going to have all hazardous chemicals banned from use in the textile industry. Greenpeace is calling on the brands and suppliers to become champions for a toxic free future, by eliminating all releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and their products.

Take action.

Yixiu Wu is the Detox My Fashion Project Leader at Greenpeace East Asia.

**This post first appeared on the Greenpeace blog here.