Six years ago, the worst industrial accident in the history of Bangladesh occurred. More than 4,000 people were buried under debris and at least 1,138 killed when the Rana Plaza building collapsed, housing several garment factories where western apparel companies manufactured their clothes. "We need a global ethic of responsibility in the supply chain," said Gerd Müller (CSU), Germany’s Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development. On Monday, he introduced the Green Button, the world's first government sustainability label designed to help improve textile manufacturing. Below are the most important points in summary.
It is in black typeface and instead of the "o," there is a green button - that's what the government label looks like. It is affixed to the garment and either sewn in or attached. Some companies will initially only refer online to their products with the Green Button. The label is awarded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to manufacturers who have passed the required examination procedure. The label combines social and ecological standards whose criteria and conditions are determined by the government.
Products with the Green Button must fulfil 26 social and environmental minimum standards. The social criteria include, for example, employee rights, such as the applicable statutory minimum wage, the paid minimum wage and overtime and the right to non-discrimination, as well as prohibition of child and forced labour. Compliance with safety and health regulations in the workplace - protective clothing, for example, clean drinking water and adequate fire protection - is also important.
While the social standards focus on the process of clothing production, the environmental criteria revolve around requirements in textile finishing like dyeing procedures or the chemical retrofitting of clothing. The minimum requirements, for example in regards to wastewater and chemicals harmful to human health and the environment, are important in this context. In addition, there are requirements for the biodegradability of substances and the level of air pollution.
In addition to social and environmental criteria that a product has to meet, due diligence obligations of the entire company apply in terms of human rights and the environment. The manufacturer must be prepared to identify risks in the supply chain and take responsibility for them. The company has to also follow transparent reporting and have an "effective complaints mechanism" in place. The approach of involving a company as a whole when awarding a label is an interesting innovation that prevents companies from simply ‘greenwashing’ themselves with individual certificates.
Around 70 companies have expressed interest in the Green Button, from one-women-startups to international fashion conglomerates and brands. Foreign companies are also said to have expressed interest. Many of them are currently going through the testing process; the first 27 will start on Monday with the first Green Button products. Among others, Vaude is involved, as well as Tchibo, Aldi and Hessnatur, and brands such as Hugo Boss will be added. The product range includes clothing, blankets, bags, mattresses, umbrellas and carpets and even retainers for glasses and mosquito nets.
The Green Button is a meta label and a beacon in a sea of dozens of existing labels. Those who want it have to already have received one or more of the seven reference labels recognized by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and that too in such a way that all social and ecological criteria are covered. Approved seals include: Blue Angel, Fairtrade, Fair Wear Foundation, Oeko-Tex Made in Green, Blue-Sign, CradletoCradle Silver, Global Organic Textile Standard, Naturtextil IVN certified BEST. Inspection agencies for the company criteria are, for example, TÜV and Dekra (Germany’s largest inspection company), whose independence the Federal German Accreditation Body wants to guarantee.
So far, the Green Button has looked only at the processes of dyeing and bleaching as well as cutting and sewing textiles - and not at the cotton field. Spinning and weaving are also not monitored; all this is to come later. The International Association of the Natural Textile Industry warns that this and a "clever combination" of the reference labels could lead to consumers buying genetically modified fibres in the end.
There is also criticism of the fact that there are concessions for small companies and in the case of products manufactured in the EU-the proof of compliance with social standards is less strict. Some companies also criticise the cost and the amount of bureaucracy involved.
In the introductory phase until 30th June 2021, the BMZ will pay for the initial inspection of a company; afterwards, the companies will have to pay themselves.
The hope is that the Green Button, as a recognisable sign, will help consumers pay attention to sustainability when buying clothes and purchase more products that are produced ecologically and fair. The more companies that join the Green Button, the more widespread the minimum standards set by the label will be. It remains to be seen how many companies will apply for the label and how much of their product range will carry the Green Button. To start with, the new label has encouraged a wide range of textile companies to take part, but both the German Textil+Mode Federation and the German Retailers' Association (HDE) have so far taken a stance against the project.
Development organisations criticise that the Green Button does not set ambitious standards for the textile industry in order to improve the prevailing production conditions. On the contrary, some of the criteria even fall short of the existing best practices. NGOs argue that the voluntary nature of the label won't bring about comprehensive changes that only a law could.
The website www.gruener-knopf.de explains the criteria for awarding the Green Button in detail, also for what kind of products it applies and which companies are already participating. (FashionUnited/AFP)
This article was originally published on FashionUnited DE. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.
Image: BMZ | Agentur Tinkerbelle