The five-year sustainability agreement was signed in 2016

The five-year sustainability agreement was signed in 2016

The Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile (AGT) is turning out to be a relevant and effective way of improving sustainability in the garment and textile sector, according to research carried out by consultants Avance Impact.

The five-year agreement was signed in 2016 by a broad coalition of companies and other organisations to prevent malpractices such as worker exploitation, animal cruelty and environmental pollution.

The agreement is facilitated by the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) – and its provisions are based on existing objectives and standards set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The independent evaluation report, carried out at the midway point of its five-year term, found that in the period ahead, the focus must move to demonstrating impact across the production chain worldwide.

The evaluation, which involved interviews with various participating companies as well as external parties, found the agreement has already achieved a number of important milestones. For example, participating companies are growing more skilled at due diligence: they examine their production chain, identify potential and actual malpractices, and then prioritise and try to tackle them.

Transparency has also improved thanks to the annual publication of the aggregated companies' production locations, Avance says. The parties further cooperate on projects and participating companies publish their own sustainability reports, including their risk analysis. Avance concludes that they are working hard to gain a better insight in their production chains.

"The participating companies have got off on the right foot," the report says. "For example, they are now much more knowledgeable about due diligence and aware of how to make better use of it in their organisation, and they have a better insight in their production chain and where the risk of malpractice is greatest."

Avance also concludes that the agreement had a very lofty ambition at the start: 'To make substantial progress within a period of three to five years for groups experiencing adverse impacts.' The research agency says it has seen the first signs of progress in the production chain, but notes that achieving a noticeable impact is complicated, will take more time and require an extra effort.

Improvements are already visible at a number of individual production locations: for example the introduction of a living wage at a number of factories in Turkey and Pakistan. In addition, parties and companies work together on collective projects devoted to such issues as living wage, child labour and water and chemicals, the evaluation found.

Besides suggesting better ways to track impact in the production chain, Avance recommends improving the process of information-sharing between participating companies and parties such as NGOs, trade unions and government. Such improvements will help the parties cooperate even more closely on minimising the risk of human rights, environmental and animal welfare abuses.

The first recommendations for improving the agreement were adopted immediately this summer. There is further discussion of a possible follow-up after the agreement expires, Avance says. No decision has yet been taken on this point.

"The evaluation report is an important sign: it confirms that the agreement offers a good pathway towards sustainability in the garment and textile sector," says Pierre Hupperts, independent chairman of the Agreement. "Our task is to keep moving forward. We still have much work ahead, especially in production countries."

The research results are at odds with claims by the Dutch Clean Clothes Campaign (SKC) and the Research Foundation for Multinational Enterprises (SOMO) in April this year, which said the initiative is making too little progress on its goal of supply chain transparency.

An analysis of the agreement's second annual report by the two groups concluded there has been no positive impact for workers in production countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey.