The G7 are committed to fair trade and sustainable supply chains

Factory in Bangladesh where social and environmental standards are respected

Factory in Bangladesh where social and environmental standards are respected

© Thomas Köhler/photothek

Minister Müller has lobbied successfully to get the enforcement of global labour, social and environmental standards on the G7 agenda for the first time.

"There was some discussion, but in the end we were able to say with pride that, together with Germany’s Labour Minister, Andrea Nahles, and the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), we were able to win the backing of our G7 partners. At their summit in Elmau the G7 agreed on concrete steps for implementing labour, social and environmental standards in textile supply chains. Decent work and sustainable production are to become the global norm. The heads of state and heads of government meeting in Elmau have agreed that all stakeholders need to engage in dialogue in order to achieve this aim. Multi-stakeholder alliances such as the one initiated by the BMZ for sustainable textiles will be launched in other G7 countries, too. There will also be greater transparency for consumers. The G7 welcome practical tools, such as apps, which let consumers compare and understand social and environmental product labels and information about sustainability more easily. Producing countries are to be supported in their endeavours to implement standards and become better integrated in global value chains. The G7 will better coordinate their activities to support producing countries’ efforts to improve working conditions and enhance environmental measures. These new initiatives launched in 2015, a watershed year for development, will establish an important connection between living conditions in developing countries and consumption patterns in rich industrialised countries."

What is it all about?

Every T-shirt that you wear travels a long way before it reaches your wardrobe – passing through a long supply chain. Typically, the cotton is cultivated and harvested in one country, and is processed and woven into fabric in another. The fabric is then dyed somewhere else and is finally sewn together to make a T-shirt in yet another place – often under extremely harsh labour conditions for the workers.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in April 2013 brought home to us just how disastrous production conditions in the textile industry can be: unsafe buildings, poor fire protection, toxic chemicals and wages that are hardly enough to survive on – that is the harsh reality in many production facilities.

In a world that is becoming ever more interconnected economically it is therefore important to have occupational health and safety regulations and environmental protection rules that apply across national boundaries. That is why Germany has made "standards in supply chains” one of the priorities of its G7 Presidency. Germany wants the G7 to lead by example in the post-2015 process, involving all relevant stakeholders, that is governments, private enterprises, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and, last but not least, consumers, since it is they in particular who can influence the market through their behaviour. If consumers in the developed world were given more, and more transparent, information for instance, they would be able to understand what kind of conditions the products that they buy have been made under.

Meeting of G7 Development and Labour Ministers in Berlin

Following the invitation by Mr. Müller, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Ms. Nahles, Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, to Berlin on 12-13 October, G7 employment and development ministers adopted the Declaration "Action for Fair Production" to improve the application of labour, social and environmental standards in global supply chains. At the meeting, they reached out to G20 presidency representatives from Turkey and China, as well as international organisations and social partners. In their declaration, the ministers specify the G7 Elmau commitment in six areas, taking measures both at home and in support of developing countries. The measures include promoting a level playing field for small and medium-sized enterprises, due diligence, providing consumer information, promoting multistakeholder initiatives, support for developing countries, setting-up the Vision Zero Fund, and strengthening OECD National Contact Points.

Conference in Berlin

The BMZ joined forces with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) to table the proposal for the G7 Supply Chain Initiative. At a conference in Berlin from 10 to 12 March 2015 that was jointly hosted by the two ministries, representatives of governments, international organisations, trade unions and industry discussed how sustainable supply chains could be created, supported and expanded.

Participants at the conference, entitled "Promoting decent work worldwide through sustainable supply chains", came up with ways to implement social and ecological standards worldwide. The opening speech was delivered by Kailash Satyarthi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his efforts to combat child exploitation. A clear vote from the heads of the World Bank, OECD and ILO participating in the final panel indicated that the G7 can and should make an important contribution in this context. Federal Ministers Gerd Müller and Andrea Nahles were the hosts for the event.

Constructive dialogue

Globally operating enterprises based in industrialised countries are important partners in the effort for decent work. They can have a decisive influence on working and production conditions within their supplier companies in developing and emerging countries. This topic was also discussed with business (B7) and trade union (L7) leaders at the so-called "outreach meetings” in the run-up to the G7 summit and received a vote of support. In that way the G7 countries can work with the private sector and trade unions to improve compliance with minimum social and environmental standards. That, in turn, will help to promote sustainable growth and decent employment in developing countries. The principle of voluntary action is a priority for the German government.

If the G7 countries are to improve standards in supply chains and thus shoulder their share of the responsibility for sustainability they need to engage in a constructive dialogue with the producer countries. The partner countries of the BMZ where products sold in Germany are manufactured will be important dialogue partners in this process.

We, the rich countries, who are on the sunny side of the street, in the spotlight of life, must take on more responsibility, for instance for seamstresses in Bangladesh who sew our clothes for 15 cents an hour, although that is not enough to survive on or send their children to school. It would cost one euro to take responsibility, one single euro per dress, per jacket or pair of trousers to ensure that hard work in Bangladesh, Cambodia or in Africa pays off and children and seamstresses have opportunities in life.

Federal Minister Dr. Gerd Müller at the "ONE WORLD - Forum for the Future" in Berlin