The German-led Partnership for Sustainable Textiles initiative aims to bring about social, ecological and economic improvements along the apparel and textile supply chain

The German-led Partnership for Sustainable Textiles initiative aims to bring about social, ecological and economic improvements along the apparel and textile supply chain

A German initiative designed to boost sustainability in the clothing and textile sector has been losing members, but a senior manager has told just-style it will continue working hard to extend its influence and fix operational problems.

The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, set up in 2014 by Germany's federal ministry for economic cooperation and development, has seen members fall from 188 at the beginning of this year to 148 at present.

This follows the partnership's steering committee in late 2016 telling members to produce a practical action plan to boost sustainability in chemical and environmental management; social standards and living wages; as well as natural fibre production and processing.

These 'roadmaps' had to be published by the end of March 2017 – and companies that did not comply either left voluntarily or were forced to leave.

Dr Jürgen Janssen, head of the partnership's secretariat, is not surprised, but says the organisation will listen to difficulties highlighted by members. "Creating these roadmaps is a complex task. This was the first attempt for all parties involved to move from planning and negotiations to action.

"We are now working on our regimen," to avoid problems in the future, he says. The aim after all, he emphasises, is to raise the partnership's clothing and textile market coverage (production and retail) in Germany from 50% (after the fall in numbers) to 75% in the coming year.

Companies, however, decided not to draft action plans for various reasons, Janssen told just-style, including that they were already operating sustainably.

Clothing manufacturer Trigema, for example, exclusively produces in Germany and follows the country's social and environmental standards. "I was told that I would have to hire someone to monitor and prove that we were actually doing what the law determined we should," owner Wolfgang Grupp told Germany's state broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Janssen says some members had difficulties meeting roadmap drafting requirements because they had set up such high social and ecological standards they could not propose more ambitious goals.

Others who did not deliver a roadmap were too small to handle the administration demanded by the procedure. Janssen admits that the roadmap system might need some change: "For some members the process might need some more development so that it is suitable for all business models within the partnership."

Some members went bankrupt this year, and one producer of leather shoes left since leather is not yet part of the roadmap process, Janssen adds.

A spokesperson for German clothing retailer 'Ernsting's family', from Coesfeld, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that revealing the data required by the procedure was too risky for the company. Other firms feared that the partnership might name and shame member companies who failed to adhere to their own pre-defined standards.

German sustainability scheme a "supersized" Accord

Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have criticised the partnership's impact and the producers who are leaving. Greenpeace, for example, has complained about companies' unwillingness to publish business data.

One German clothing industry manager, who asked not to be named, commented: "There are plenty of large and powerful producers and retailers that should be members that have not even bothered to try and adhere to the standards of the partnership yet. Getting them to become members would be a worthwhile target for the NGO's efforts."

Spain-based Inditex, German retailer Karstadt Warenhaus or retailer P&C (Peek & Cloppenburg) have not participated, according to partnership membership lists.

Kathrin Krause, policy officer for sustainable consumption at Germany's federal consumer lobby Verbraucherzentrale, in Berlin, which remains a member of the partnership, also stresses the need for high market coverage to level the playing field for all competitors.

"Sustainability comes at a price and those 50% of players who adhere to greener standards should not be disadvantaged", Krause told just-style.

She feels that Germany should set compulsory and universal sustainability for all businesses which adhere to the UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. "An organisation such as the partnership then would be very helpful to get the companies to talk to one another and to learn from each other's best practice."

And for those companies that do comply, there may be some publicity payback.

Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, the parliamentary state secretary for the ministry for economic cooperation and development, visited outdoor clothing producer Vaude in Tettnang, Baden-Württemberg, last Friday (11 August) to thank the company for its commitment to the partnership and its programmes. Vaude on 1 August published a roadmap defining how the company wants to reduce its environmental impact.

German retailer Rewe Group has also signed off its new action plan designed to improve working conditions at textile suppliers and increase the proportion of its textiles manufactured from sustainable cotton.

Rewe Group signs off sustainable textiles action plan