Magazine article International Trade Forum

How Germany Aims to Raise Standards in Supply Chains

Magazine article International Trade Forum

How Germany Aims to Raise Standards in Supply Chains

Article excerpt

With the advance of globalization and trade liberalization, developing countries are an ever more integral part of global supply chains. Yet the value created does not always translate into greater general prosperity in these countries, particularly the poorer ones. The cause is to be found in inadequate social standards. In many cases workers are not paid a living wage and no trade unions exist. Workers' health and lives are at risk because of inadequate or non-existent rules governing the structural design of buildings, fire precautions or the handling of toxic chemicals. That was made dramatically clear by the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of well over a thousand people.

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These conditions pose a great challenge to those concerned with framing responsible development policies to help ensure decent working conditions for people producing goods and delivering services across the globe. We must not allow them to be exploited and we must ensure they live in a healthy environment.

The German government began in late 2013 to step up its efforts considerably in this regard. Focusing on the textiles sector, where supply chains are particularly complex, Germany is piloting initiatives to show how standards can be improved and met.

SUSTAINABLE TEXTILES PARTNERSHIP

Germany's Development Ministry is employing a three-pronged strategy. The first step was to set up the multi-stakeholder Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. The government called on all major German companies engaged in producing and trading in textiles; international companies operating in the sector in Germany; and non-governmental organizations, as well as trade unions and government representatives to join the scheme. Its aim is to improve the conditions under which textiles are produced. The partners discussed the minimum ecological and social standards that need to apply to the supply chain for textiles.

Drawing on the expertise of all the stakeholders in the partnership and on existing international networks, they came up with a comprehensive list of ambitious yet achievable aims. Some of these concern social aspects of production, such as prohibition of child labour, forced labour and wage slavery, and the payment of living wages. Others deal with fire precautions, building safety and the safe use of chemicals. Environmental aspects are also included. The companies that signed up to the partnership have committed to ensure compliance with these standards at every stage of their supply chain.

The German government is also, through its development cooperation efforts, supporting measures in producer countries. In Bangladesh and Cambodia, which are major producers of textiles, Germany has launched large-scale programmes for the introduction of standards. Training courses are offered to businesses on the issues of fire precautions and building safety and the countries are being helped to establish authorities for setting protective regulations and monitoring compliance. Support is being provided for the establishment of trade unions and works councils together with the International Labour Organization.

The third step is boosting demand for goods produced in fair conditions. The first thing that needs to be done here is to provide consumers with absolute clarity about how items have been made. …

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