In 2015, the United Nations agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in which they outline uniform priorities and targets for sustainable development worldwide until 2030. Furthermore, they ask governments, enterprises, and civil society to participate in these efforts against poverty thereby granting a dignified existence to all people. Successful implementation of these goals not only depends on governmental efforts but the actions and the cooperation of all stakeholders. Enterprises were encouraged to explicitly use their potential for innovation and economic power to overcome the challenges of sustainable development.
The SDGs comprise all facets of sustainable development, for example, no poverty, good health and well-being, reduced inequality, climate action on land and in the seas, sustainable production and consumption, peace and partnership ─ just to name a few.
SDG1: No Poverty
More than 780 million people live below the poverty line worldwide. Unfortunately, employment does not always prevent poverty. Almost ten per cent of the people who work have less than 1.90 US Dollar per day at their disposal — not enough to sustain themselves and their families or to offer their children a proper education. In the textiles industry, many people work for wages that hardly support a living.
No enterprise, trade union, or government can solve this problem on its own. To transform the current wages being paid within the textiles sector into living wages, all actors must work together and ensure that workers have the opportunity to assemble and to negotiate a reasonable income. At the same time, corruption and exploitation must be stopped. All members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles must implement concrete measures or participate in a Partnership Initiative that aims at the payment of living wages for workers in the production countries. The German Federal Government, associations, non-governmental organisations, and trade unions must address these goals in their political conversations.
SDG3: Good Health and Well-being
Sadly, good health and well-being are not a matter of course: More than five million children worldwide die before their fifth birthday and too many women still die during childbirth. Common diseases restrict the life expectancy of many people in developing countries because they do not have access to vaccinations, medicine, or potable water.
The production of textiles not only requires a lot of water but involves the use of a large quantity of various chemicals, many of which are hazardous and can considerably affect the health of the workers. During the dyeing and finishing of fabric, 1.5 kilograms of chemicals are used for one kilogram of fabric. Among other things, the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles aims at optimising the chemical and environmental management in the textiles supply chain. Brands, businesses, manufacturers, and the German Federal Government must support their suppliers in making their supply chain management more environmentally friendly. All members have agreed to a list of chemicals that should not be used in the production process. This Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL) takes into account the requirements of the internationally-acknowledged Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) initiative. This is communicated to all producers and partners with the aid of accompanying materials.
SDG5: Gender Equality
Almost every fifth womaen, including minors, has been a victim of physical or sexual violence within the last twelve months. 49 countries do not have laws protecting the victims from this violence. Where laws exist, they often lack enforcement. Women and girls are frequently directed by others: for example, 750 million girls married off before they turn 18. In 18 countries, a woman’s spouse can legally forbid them taking official employment. Furthermore, women often accept jobs that pay poorly or not at all.
Roughly 75 million people work in the global textiles industry — the majority of whom are female. Thus, improving working conditions, a founding principle of Textiles Partnership, also benefits gender equality. This is why brands, enterprises, manufacturers, and the German Federal Government have obliged all producers and partners to obey the social targets of the Textiles Partnership. For example, the Partnership Initiative Tamil Nadu aims at the systemic improvement of labour conditions in the textile and garment industry in this southern Indian state, especially for women and girls in spinning mills. A training program is being realised to accompany the establishment of Complaints and Grievance Committees in 300 factories as well as to inform workers and management about labour law and complaints mechanisms.
SDG6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Water is vital for all people, animals and plants on this planet. Yet 2.1 billion people live without access to clean water and one in three people has no access to sanitation. Without water and sanitation, diseases can spread particularly rapidly - a deadly danger, especially for young children. SDG 6 therefore aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Subgoal 6.3 focuses on improving water quality by reducing pollution, minimising the release of hazardous chemicals, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and increasing safe reuse worldwide.
The global processing of textiles causes 20 per cent of industrial water pollution. The wastewater from the textiles industry usually contains hazardous substances, which make their way into rivers and other water sources without being filtered. This is extremely harmful to the health of the animals and human beings living in and at these rivers. That is why the members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles stand up for an ecological and sustainable wastewater management as well as for the avoidance of hazardous chemicals. For example, they committed to banning 160 hazardous chemicals from production. Additionally, they support producers in establishing proper and environmentally suitable wastewater management. Thus, not only do the rivers become cleaner, but the people working in the factories who live near these waterways are no longer exposed to the risks.
SDG8: Decent work and Economic Growth
Sufficient employment opportunities that allow decent work are a precondition for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. About 75 million people work in the textile and garment industry, most of them in developing and emerging countries. Textiles production has created millions of jobs, especially in Asia. The textile industry is of major importance for the economic growth and development of many nations worldwide. However, the production and working conditions in some countries do not correspond to the standards defined on an international level. Workers in textile production must often endure insufficient building safety, dangerous working conditions, wages below the living wage, and unpaid overtime.
The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles defined various social Partnership Goals based on the conventions defined by International Labour Organisation (ILO). This includes, among others, freedom of association, prohibition of child and forced labour as well as health and safety at the workspace. The members must compel compliance with these social Partnership Goals from all suppliers and partners. Furthermore, the members are obliged to establish processes for dealing with cases of child and forced labour.
SDG10: Reduced Inequalities
Global wealth is being unequally distributed: the top per cent of the world's population own 45 per cent of the global wealth. In 2018, 26 individuals owned as much as the 3.8 billion people constituting the poorest half of humanity. This growing financial inequality often leads to social discrimination and jeopardises the stability of society.
Inequality is also found in the textiles industry: while businesses profit, employees are forced to work for wages that hardly allow a decent living. Since the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles was founded, living wages have been a central matter of the initiative. As of 2019, living wages are also a mandatory target for Textiles Partnership members. All members must participate in a measure aimed at paying living wages to employees in the production countries. Additionally, the Partnership Initiative on Living Wages supports approaches for increasing wages within production countries. Earning a living wage allows workers to secure the livelihood of their families and themselves as well as save money for emergencies. In this way, social and economic inequalities can be reduced sustainably.
SDG12: Responsible Production and Consumption
Humanity consumes far more resources than planet Earth can offer. The Global Footprint Network calculated that 3.2 Earths would be necessary, if the global population continued to live like the German people. For Australia and the USA, five Earths would be necessary! Adopting a lifestyle and economic behaviour respectful to our planet's natural resources is long overdue. To ensure its success, we must change our production and consumption habits. This also applies to the textiles industry as it is of the most resource-intensive sectors with consumption steadily increasing.
The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles actively advocates sustainable consumption and production. To facilitate the latter, the Textiles Partnership published, among other materials, a guideline for the procurement of sustainable wool and avoiding hazardous chemicals. Additionally, all members of the Textiles Partnership are obliged to realise measures that increase awareness regarding sustainable textiles production. For example, businesses train their suppliers. Civil society organisations launch campaigns to inform the consumer about sustainable textile consumption and thus strengthen the public awareness on environmental consequences caused by the production of textiles.
SDG15: Life on Land
2.6 billion people live on agriculture worldwide. Forests are home to more than 80 per cent of the world’s creatures. Nonetheless, humanity loses many areas of arable land and forests each year. This leads to a loss in the richness of species as well as in the basis of human life.
Cotton is of major importance in the textile sector. Although its production only requires 2.5 per cent of the arable lands, five per cent of the global pesticide use stem from cotton production. That is why the promotion of sustainable cotton is crucial: relinquishing synthetic pesticides is good for lands and waters while also preserving biodiversity. Farmers achieve higher prices and often profit from sustainable trade relationships so that investments are worthwhile.
All members of the Textiles Partnership have the common goal to raise the share of sustainable cotton to 35 per cent by 2020, 10 per cent of which being organic cotton. Until 2025, it shall be 70 per cent sustainable cotton, half of which should be organic.
SDG16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
Sustainable development requires peace and stability. Effective, responsible, and transparent institutions, combined with judicial independence, the protection of human rights, and effective law enforcement are all essential preconditions. Nevertheless, child labour is still globally prevalent and corruption and tax avoidance result in developing countries incurring costs amounting to 1.26 trillion US-Dollars annually.
In addition, exploitation, child labour, and corruption are still prevalent in the global textiles supply chain. The members of the Partnership for Sustainable have resolved to change these conditions and ensure that their partners along the supply chain adhere to the Partnership's Goals. Additionally, all members must commit to zero tolerance regarding corruption. To enforce these agreements, the German Federal Government, associations, non-governmental organisations, trade unions, and standards organisations use their influence on political decision makers. Furthermore, producers, businesses, and brands oblige to implement adequate processes to handle cases of child and/or forced labour, to find effective remedy measures, and to prevent such working conditions in the future.
SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals
Whether with regard to paying living wages or banning toxic chemicals, textile supply chains come with many complex challenges. It is due to this complexity and the global nature of supply chains, that no actor can address these challenges alone. To make textile supply chains contribute to sustainable development, the state, the economy, and civil society must face these challenges together.
The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles acts as a role model and does not only unite different actors within Germany but also cooperates with other initiatives on an international level. For example, the Textiles Partnership addresses the living wages issue in collaboration with Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT) and the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF). Together with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile (AGT), the Textiles Partnership undertakes the implementation of the OECD Guidance on Due Diligence, thus promoting the equalisation of European and international processes. With regard to chemical management and substitution of hazardous chemicals, the Textiles Partnership currently cooperates with Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC). The collaborations are expanded continuously with new ones planned for the future.