German activities

Improving environmental and social standards in the textile industry

Factory in Bangladesh where social and environmental standards are respected

Germany's development policy is geared towards fostering economic growth while simultaneously enforcing decent working and living conditions and the protection and sustainable use of the environment worldwide.

In the textile sector, Germany is pursuing a broad range of efforts in support of environmental and social standards at various levels.

Partnership for Sustainable Textiles

German Development Minister Gerd Müller (right) presents the joint action plan of the Textiles Partnership together with (from left to right) Christiane Schnura, coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), Antje von Dewitz, CEO of VAUDE Sport GmbH & Co. KG and Reiner Hoffmann, president of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB).

In April 2014, Development Minister Gerd Müller invited various stakeholders to form a Round Table on the Textiles Industry to discuss options for improving environmental and social standards in the textile industry. More than 70 representatives of the textile sector, unions and civil society took part in the Round Table and drafted an ambitious Plan of Action.

On 16 October 2014, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles was officially launched. The Partnership is intended to foster the continuous improvement of social, environmental and economic sustainability along the entire textile value chain. Since its inception, around 130 companies and organisations have joined the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. Thus, the Textiles Partnership already covers 50 per cent of Germany's textiles retail market.

The standards of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles are based on successful international principles such as the ILO's core labour standards, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They have also been informed by existing systems of standards (for instance for organic textiles and Fair Trade), technical industry standards, internationally recognised lists of harmful pesticides and industrial chemicals, and voluntary codes of conduct within the private sector.

The Plan of Action lays down binding Partnership Standards for the production of raw material and of textiles and clothing (spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing, finishing and processing).

The Textiles Partnership has six specialised working groups to address its key topics. As far as implementation in practice is concerned, the members of the Partnership are eager to place the focus initially on the most pressing challenges in the industry, for instance a more transparent supply chain, proper handling of chemicals, compliance with social standards, payment of appropriate wages, and freedom of association. The focus will initially be on natural fibres such as cotton, which are important raw materials in the industry. Later, the production of synthetic fibres is also to be included.

Implementation requirements and indicators are currently being defined for the areas of natural fibres, chemicals and social standards. They will be binding on all members. Each member will develop its own road map.

The Textiles Partnership has created a high level of commitment. By joining the Partnership, members make a commitment to work together continuously to achieve the goals laid down in the Plan of Action. The "Review" working group is developing a credible monitoring system to measure progress made by Partnership members. Results will be verified by an independent third party and documented in a progress report.

From the beginning, the Textiles Partnership has had an international outlook. With a view to making the Partnership and its objectives an integral part of the international agenda, partnerships are being built within the EU, with G7, G20 and OECD countries, and with international organisations.

For up-to-date information on the Textiles Partnership, visit

Support for international organisations

Worker in a textile factory in Viet Nam

Germany has been lobbying within international development organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a view to getting them to promote environmental and social standards in their dialogues with developing countries.

In particular, Germany supports the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its efforts to enforce core labour standards around the world. In May 2014, the BMZ and the ILO signed a cooperation agreement on the financing of ILO programmes in the Asian textile and garment industry. The programmes are intended to strengthen trade unions, foster social dialogue and enforce living wages.

Dialogue with partner countries

Textile factory in Bangladesh

The BMZ supports the introduction and recognition of environmental and social standards in the countries where Germany has development cooperation programmes. In the textile sector, for example, there are relevant programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Cambodia. Among other things, Germany advises these countries' governments on the design of labour and environmental legislation.

With a view to improving compliance with ILO core labour standards in the textile sector, Germany is pursuing targeted efforts to foster the dialogue between employers and workers, so that they are able to jointly identify problems and find answers. In order to enable workers to assert their interests effectively, Germany supports the establishment of unions and associations and the provision of training for union workers.

In Bangladesh alone, more than 100,000 textile workers, managers and factory owners have been assisted since 2010 through education campaigns and training programmes. After the collapse of Rana Plaza, Germany also offered training for former textile workers, helping them to build new livelihoods as micro entrepreneurs.

In Pakistan, there is a programme for the protection of natural resources. Germany is helping the textile industry to use water efficiently. This reduces the level of water consumption. And, thanks to reduced water pollution, the health status of workers improves.

Cooperation with the private sector

Women picking cotton.

When it comes to enforcing environmental and social standards, the private sector is an important partner for policymakers. The BMZ is therefore working together with the business community in many ways.

Cooperative endeavours between German official development cooperation players and private companies are geared, for example, towards assisting producer companies in developing countries as they implement the goals of the Textiles Partnership. Through its public-private partnership programme (, the BMZ has been working together with some of the members of the Partnership for several years.

In the textile industry, the BMZ supports, among other things, the Cotton made in Africa initiative, which is geared towards sustainable cotton production. Textile companies pay a licence fee for the right to use the Cotton made in Africa quality label. The revenue from the licence fees is invested in the African project areas. The initiative has already supported more than 750,000 smallholders.

Cooperation with civil society

Logo Fairtrade International

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play an important role in the drafting, introduction and monitoring of environmental and social standards in developing countries. NGOs typically have good contacts with local people and enjoy great confidence because they are independent from government authorities.

With a view to improving working conditions in the textile sector, NGOs engage with workers, organise training events and workshops, and campaign for workers' interests both in the companies concerned and vis-à-vis public sector organisations.

In the field of Fair Trade, too, civil society organisations and initiatives play an important role. For instance, they define standards together with all stakeholders, and monitor compliance. Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), Fairtrade International for short, is the world's largest organisation in the field of social standards certification. FLO guarantees that products with the Fairtrade label comply with uniform criteria throughout the world.

The BMZ is supporting Fairtrade International in developing a textile label. So far, the Fair Trade approach in this context has been limited to standards for cotton cultivation. Now the aim is to broaden this approach to cover the entire textiles production and supply chain.

Consumer education

Shopper with shopping bags

German consumers bear some responsibility for working conditions in the garment industry. This means that they can also make a difference through deliberate purchasing decisions, making sure that more and more products that have been produced in an environmentally and socially viable way enter the market.

Informed purchasing requires transparency. Consumers need to be able to tell under what conditions their garments have been produced.

That is why, in February 2015, the BMZ launched its web portal (in German), which consumers can use to find out more about the credibility of environmental and social labels used by the textile industry. Shoppers can even use the related Siegelklarheit smartphone app while shopping.

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