The European Parliament creates a momentum for ethical textiles

The European Parliament has recently adopted a resolution on sustainable cotton and another one on the working conditions in the South Asian garment factories. In both statements the Parliament calls for stepping up the countries’ engagements against child labour in the textile sector.

Following the European Union’s (EU) accession to the ICAC (International Cotton Advisory Committee), the European Parliament has passed a resolution on sustainability in the global cotton value chain.

The resolution describes the cotton market and the problems associated to its harvest. It does not only focus on the environmental down sides of cotton growth and processing, but it also deals with the social problems associated to it, notably forced and child labour. Strong emphasis is placed on preventing and taking action against human rights violations through the cotton supply chain. However, a reference to the struggle of farmers in the South, concretely in West Africa, is missing due to the unfair international trade system.

On a positive note, the role of small producers in the cotton production is enhanced: “stresses the need to create the right conditions for small-scale producers from developing countries to gain access to the main value chains serving the Union’s textile and clothing industry, move up the cotton-textile-clothing value chain and grasp the potential of organic and fair trade cotton”. It even encourages the procurement of Fair Trade cotton at EU level by “calling on the Commission to evaluate how public procurement legislation in the EU can bolster the take-up of fair trade cotton”.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Fair Trade cotton is presented as a model of “closer cooperation between consumers and producers, inter alia in the cotton sector, whose expertise and best practices should be evaluated by the Commission”.

The resolution on recent casualties in textiles factory fires, notably in Bangladesh, also focuses on improving the working conditions in the textile supply chain. One of the main claims is the need to respect the eight core International Labour Organization conventions, whereby the Parliament “calls on retailers, non-governmental organizations and all the other actors involved, including as appropriate the Commission, to work together to look at developing a voluntary labelling standard certifying that a product was manufactured in accordance with (them)”.

The Fair Trade Advocacy Office welcomes the Parliament’s call for better conditions in the textile production sites, and the specific focus on the cotton supply chain. Recognising the Fair Trade certification system as a good practice is good step forward, but concrete support is needed at institutional level. In any event, the resolution does not address how to redress damages caused to producers in the Global South by international trade rules. Urgent action is needed to put an end to the current stalemate of negotiations in the WTO in order to have equitable rules in place for Southern cotton farmers.

The ICAC is the International Commodity Body for Cotton. The EU decided to join as a block. Inside the ICAC some attention is being devoted to “identity cotton” regarding sustainability in the cotton value chain.

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