The labour standards organisation Social Accountability International (SAI) has signed an agreement with the China National Textile and Apparel Council (CNTAC) aimed at improving conditions in clothing factories across the country.

The two groups have told just-style that a focus on social dialogue should lead to better working conditions and sustainable businesses in this important sector, which employs over 20m workers and generates $450bn annually. They also see it as a starting point for the implementation of standards in other industries as well.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the two groups will focus on five areas of possible cooperation, with activities due to kick off at a meeting of the multi-stakeholder advisory committee (MAC) in December.

The advisory committee will provide government, local and global companies, workers, social auditors and other stakeholders with a platform to discuss how to implement best practices in industrial relations and sustainable business.

Crucially, they hope to agree on sustainability strategies for the Chinese textile and apparel industry, making the most of local guidance on ways to improve labour conditions and improve worker satisfaction.

SAI and CNTAC first worked together a year ago where, along with other partners including Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS), Solidaridad, the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA), the China National Textile & Apparel Council (CNTAC), the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), and the Sino-German CSR Project, they convened a one-day event in Guangzhou.

It was here that participants identified the development of local social dialogue on working conditions as a key strategy for scaling up the implementation of social standards in Chinese businesses.

Beijing-based CNTAC is the national federation tasked with modernising China's textile related industries. It officially started its CSR work in 2005 and has since initiated and operated its own voluntary CSR systems (CSC9000T and CSR-GATEs) in line with international conventions and domestic legislations.

The CSR work of CNTAC is also seen in its efforts to promote a responsible supply chain. Since 2007, it has worked closely with BSCI to enhance coherence and solidarity among voluntary CSR initiatives operating in China.

New York-based SAI has representatives in China, and has provided labour standards compliance training since 2001. As of 31 March 2011, 276,019 people work in 368 workplaces in China certified to SAI’s voluntary certification system – SA8000.