Coronavirus highlights need for EU to end toxic textile trade

Published as the joint vision of  65 civil society groups (see list of signatories in the article)

Key points of the vision are:

– Companies must take responsibility for their whole supply chain

– Now is the time for stricter environmental rules

– Broad coalition of fair trade, human and workers’ rights, environmental, and transparency groups call for action

A global re-design of the textile industry’s broken business model is essential for the post-coronavirus world.

With the European Commission poised to start developing a new ‘comprehensive strategy for textiles’ [1] a broad coalition of 65 campaign groups for fair trade, human and workers’ rights, environmental protection, and transparency has set out its vision for the future of the industry.

The textile, garments, leather and footwear (TGLF) sector has long been characterised by labour and human rights abuses, along with the immense pressure it exerts on our environment and climate. 

Patrizia Heidegger, Global Policies and Sustainability Director at the European Environmental Bureau, said: “Cancelled orders and delayed payments due to the pandemic have left millions of vulnerable workers in the textile supply chain without pay and the livelihoods of their families at risk. This is once again laying bare the lack of clear legal obligations for buyers to take responsibility for their whole supply chain. It’s time for an EU response to tackle both fashion’s exploitation of workers and the shocking environmental and climate damage of an industry based on the sale of ever more new products.”

Members of the European Parliament Delara Burkhardt (S&D), Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA), and Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL) have addressed a joint letter to all the Members of the European Parliament to share and support the civil society groups’ vision – set out as a ‘shadow’ textiles strategy. In the letter, the MEPs stress that “the textile sector has been among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis due to the power imbalances among its actors and its severe structural problems, including the environmental damage it causes and governance issues. It is one of the most polluting industries, the source of countless catastrophes like that of Rana Plaza, and a hotspot for human rights abuses – which affect women disproportionately”.

Representing the civil society coalition, Sergi Corbalán, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Advocacy Office said: “Voluntary industry action has failed to bring about a fair and sustainable textile industry, so it’s time for EU leaders to reset the industry’s structure” and added “This ‘Shadow Strategy’ offers the Commission the combined expertise of 65 Civil Society Organisations who have years of experience in dealing with the various impacts of the sector. It’s not a menu from which the Commission can pick specific initiatives and leave others behind, but a comprehensive strategy in which taking action in each field reinforces the efforts put into others.”

The civil society vision for a comprehensive EU Textile Strategy contains recommendations for legislative and non-legislative actions that the EU can undertake to contribute to fairer and more sustainable TGLF sector, including:

> Ensuring companies are legally obligated to take responsibility for not only their own activities, but their whole supply chain by applying an EU due diligence law across all sectors, including specific requirements for the TGLF sector. Signing a multi-stakeholder partnership should not exempt business from responsibility.

> Stricter environmental rules that cover how textile products sold in the EU are designed and produced, legal and financial responsibility on producers for when their products become waste, as well as meaningful measures to promote transparency.

> Ensuring brands and retailers are legally obliged to honour contracts and end the culture of unfair purchasing practices that gives them impunity to cancel orders without honouring payments – leaving workers without pay and a wasteful pile up of unsellable products.

> Make governance reforms and better law enforcement in producing countries part of the solution to sustainability issues faced in the TGLF value chains.

> Through trade policy, use EU market power to leverage sustainable production practices in the TGLF industry.

Read the executive summary and COVID-19 update to the vision.


Abiti Puliti, achACT, Aeress, Association 4D, Circular Economy – VšĮ “Žiedinė ekonomika, Clean Clothes Campaign Europe, Clean Clothes Campaign international, Confederação Portuguesa das Associações de Defesa do Ambiente (CPADA), ECOS, European Environmental Bureau, Emmaus- Europe, ENS, Europe and We, FAIR, Fairtrade Germany, Fairtrade International, Fairtrade Max Havelaar France, Fairtrade Foundation, Fairtrade Polska, Fashion Revolution, FEMNET e.V., FOCSIV, Forum Fairer Handel, France Nature Environnement, Frauenwerk der Nordkirche, Friends of the Earth Europe, FTAO, Gender Alliance for Development Centre (GADC), INKOTA-Netzwerk, Institute for Sustainable Development Foundation, Institute of Circular Economy, Irish Environmental Network, Lithuanian NGDO Platform, Netwerk Bewust Varbruikein, ÖKOBÜRO, OXFAM Intermón, Oxfam MdM, Plastic Soup Foundation, Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGD, Polish Zero Waste Association, Pravicna-Trgovina, RepaNet, Rreuse, SDG Watch Austria, Sredina – Association of Citizens, SÜDWIND-Institut, The Circle, Traidcraft Exchange, Transparency Germany, Transparency International Deutschland, Umweltdachverband, VerbraucherService Bundesverband , Voice Ireland, Weltladen-Dachverband, Women Engage for a Common Future, Women Engaged for a Common Future France, Wontanara o.p.s., World Fair Trade Organization- Europe, World Fair Trade Organization, World Vision Ireland, World Vision Romania, Wird, Zaļā brīvība (Green Liberty), Zero Waste Europe, and Zero Waste France.


[1] The Commission’s commitment to a ‘comprehensive Textile Strategy’ was made in the Circular Economy Action Plan (page 13) published in March 2020. EU Environment ministers will have their say when they react to the Action Plan at the next Environment Council meeting on 22 June. The European Parliament will also react at a forthcoming plenary session. It is expected that the Commission will publish a roadmap towards the Textile Strategy before the end of 2020.

For further information, please contact:

Emily Macintosh, Senior Communications Officer, European Environmental Bureau 

+32 (0) 486 255 228

Jorge Conesa, Fair Trade Advocacy Office

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