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 October 2014, at the initiative of German Development Minister Gerd Müller, 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 supply chain. The Partnership has some 130 members, two thirds of them enterprises, which means that it covers about half of Germany's textile retail market.

The goals of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles are based on successful international principles such as the International Labour Organization'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 members of the Textiles Partnership seek to base their work on three pillars: individual responsibility, collective engagement and mutual support.

Individual responsibility

The pillar of individual responsibility is based on the principle of binding procedural obligations. As part of a review process, the members of the Partnership commit themselves to defining specific targets, demonstrably working towards these targets and making them gradually more ambitious. Every member audits its own status every year, sets targets in a road map and reports on the progress it has made.

The targets laid down in the road maps have to meet the binding requirements laid down by the Partnership for 2018 to 2020, which are based on key elements of due diligence. For example, brands and traders have an obligation to identify environmental and social risks and impacts of their activities along the entire supply chain. In addition to their individual targets, the members of the Partnerships have made a collective commitment to use at least 35 per cent sustainably produced cotton by 2020. This share is to rise to a total of 70 per cent by 2025.

In order to ensure that progress can be measured on a credible basis, the annual road maps and progress reports are audited by independent external experts. In 2018, all members had to publish their individual road maps on the Textiles Partnership website. From 2019, they will have to do the same with their progress reports.

Collective engagement

Through collective engagement, the members of the Partnership want to bring about social and environmental improvements in producing countries. Through joint initiatives (referred to as Partnership Initiatives) that are launched in Germany, the members are thus able to make headway on far-reaching change in producing countries.

At present, two Partnership Initiatives are being implemented, one to improve working conditions in cotton spinning mills in South India and one to strengthen sustainable environmental and chemical management in the textile sector in Asia.

Mutual support

The third pillar of the Partnership involves mutual support and exchange. Through regular programmes for support and exchange (such as a variety of training events, guidance documents and practical instruments), the Partnership gives its members opportunities to develop ideas, discuss them and learn from each other when it comes to implementing the targets they have adopted.

From the beginning, the Textiles Partnership has been designed as an international network. In order to increase the impact of its activities and firmly establish its goals at the international level, the Partnership works together with like-minded European and international initiatives (such as the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Fair Wear Foundation).

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 work of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is the lead agency for promoting worldwide adherence to core labour standards. 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 250,000 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 the BMZ and the private sector 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 members of the Partnership for a number of years.

In May 2016, the BMZ organised a regional conference in Pakistan on living wages in the Asian textile industry. 190 representatives of trade unions, governments, producer companies and international buyers from 19 countries, including Viet Nam, India, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia and Pakistan, discussed topics such as the freedom of association, collective bargaining in producer countries, and possible ways of increasing the level of wages.

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. As many as 1,033,500 small farmers are already benefiting from the initiative (as at March 2018).

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 has supported Fairtrade International in developing and introducing a textile label. Previously, the Fair Trade approach in this context had been limited to standards for cotton cultivation. The new Fair Trade standard covers 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 also means that they can make a difference through informed purchasing decisions, ensuring that more and more goods from environmentally and socially viable production enter the market.

This 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, which consumers in Germany can use to find out more about the credibility of environmental and social labels used by the textile industry. Shoppers can also use the related Siegelklarheit smartphone app while shopping.

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