Health and safety is one of the sectoral risks defined by the OECD in the textile and garment industry. Workers often work in unsafe and cramped conditions in sewing mills, spinning mills and cotton growing.
On the one hand, this is associated with increased health risks. On the other hand, the risk of accidents increases - especially when safety and labour standards are not met, workers lack the necessary protective equipment and (have to) work long hours. For example, workers in cotton cultivation or in production steps with wet processes come into contact with toxic pesticides and dangerous chemicals. Certain operations can also put workers at risk and harm their health in the short to long term, such as sandblasting for jeans with a worn look.
Vulnerable groups such as young workers, young mothers and pregnant women as well as people with disabilities are also at risk and require special protection.
Companies are subject to Due Diligence and therefore have a responsibility to analyse, prevent and mitigate health and safety risks in their supply chain. To do so, they should work closely with their suppliers to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements and access to effective grievance and redress mechanisms for workers. In addition to qualified social auditing and certification, the OECD particularly recommends involving workers in the production facilities or workers' representatives.
Furthermore, companies can contribute to the protection and better working conditions for workers in the production and cultivation facilities with the help of responsible purchasing practices. Responsible purchasing practices include fair price negotiations, joint planning and reasonable delivery times.
In 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory brought the issue of safety in garment factories to the attention of the global public. For this reason, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller initiated the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles in 2014.
In addition, as a direct reaction to the factory collapse, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety a country-specific, legally binding agreement between trade unions and brand companies, was created with the aim of improving health and safety conditions in textile factories in Bangladesh: around 1,600 textile factories were inspected in 38,000 inspections and as a result, structural changes, fire protection measures and electrical modifications were carried out.
The Textiles Partnership has formulated social goals that all members recognize by joining the Partnership. These goals are based on international social standards, in particular the ILO Conventions, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. With regard to health and safety at work, the goal is as follows:
Health and safety is one of the eleven sector risks that Partnership companies must examine in the review process. Companies analyse health and safety risks along their supply chain and set appropriate targets and actions to address their most serious risks. The results are published.
In addition, in the now completed Partnership Initiative Chemical and Environmental Management members worked together to substitute harmful chemicals in wet processes. When chemicals are stored and used safely, workers are adequately protected and contaminated water is properly treated, this protects both workers and the environment.
Further information and tools:
Selected international instruments and standards:
Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155)
Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187)
Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170)
OECD: OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector (2018). Module 5 about Occupational health and safety.