Fair production probably won't work voluntarily: that's why the German Federal Minister for Development, Gerd Müller, and Federal Minister of Labour, Hubertus Heil, want to introduce a supply chain law. This is intended to make German companies with more than 500 employees responsible in future for ensuring that their suppliers abroad comply with minimum social and ecological standards in order to ensure greater protection for people and the environment in the global economy.
But can a law really help in this respect? Our guest author, textile expert Marc Höft, has some doubts and other suggestions on how workers in sourcing countries could be helped.
"It is absolutely right and important that something has to change in the whole production and trade chain. This affects all sectors of the economy and not just the textile industry; as we have just seen once again in Germany, the food industry, for example, is also extremely affected.
In an interview on 14 July, the German Development Minister Gerd Müller showed a pair of jeans made in Bangladesh and described them as 'fair' produced at a purchase price of 7 Euros, as they normally cost 5 Euros and the difference of 2 Euros would thus make the product 'fair' and 'sustainable'.
Who works in the textile industry knows that even a price of €7 is far too low, because the complete production chain from the fiber to the final product is so complex that, in addition to the labor of very many people, millions of Euros have to be invested in machinery. And as you can imagine, these machines, which are used worldwide, very often come from Germany or Europe. At corresponding prices.
Mr. Müller should rather have explained that these 5 or 7 Euros will no longer exist in the future and that a purchase price of 10 Euros would be much more appropriate, so that at some point the then better paid employees in the production countries could also become customers. Especially since the product could then be produced with higher environmental standards.
With his statement, the minister suggests to the end customer that a good pair of trousers can cost 7 euros when purchased; and as consumers are, they will regard this statement as generally correct. But unfortunately, this only pushes a mentality to save at all costs even further.
Instead of making such statements, Mr. Müller, as a politically responsible person, should rather make sure that no more about 30% of clothes are thrown away unworn (or about half of all food). If this quota were to be reduced, then automatically more would be paid for the individual product at the beginning of the supply chain, as the write-offs would be calculated one way or another. It saves resources anyway.
Politics must start with the consumer in particular and promote and even demand an understanding for good products that are produced fairly and socially. It is all about education, and politicians should try to prevent any lobbying and populist statements. The consumer must learn to understand that cheap products always have a flip side and are usually produced unsocially and not sustainably. And where cheap is thrown in, cheap will always come out. Everything is a cycle, and at some point these cheap prices will be reflected in our wages.
In addition, a kind of 'container tax' should be introduced that benefits the employees of the delivery companies. Such a tax could be levied with a fixed amount per part per product category (for example T-shirt/20 Cents, trousers/1 Euro). The money would have to be administered by an NGO or a trust for the benefit of the employees of the supplying companies and either be paid out to the employees annually or collected as a kind of unemployment insurance and paid out in case of loss of employment. This would ensure that the money would ultimately get to where it was needed.
Last but not least, in the context of the great Corona pandemic, I would like to see a signal from politicians and also government officials: Since all the money that these groups of people receive is generated exclusively by tax revenue and is in some cases very high, it would be appropriate for these groups of people to also have to accept a salary cut, as many citizens and companies are currently having to accept.
This would be more likely to promote the principle of equality and would ultimately be only fair, as a state that no longer records any revenue would no longer be able to pay its employees, whether active or retired, as it is used to. This measure would also promote confidence in politics, which is all the more important today. A renouncement of a planned dietary increase, on the other hand, is a waste of time and has no real signal effect".
Marc Höft has been working in the apparel industry for thirty years. With his German-based company MH Clothes & More he works internationally in the business of sourcing, production and design. Here, he shares his view on the current economic situation of the global and national fashion industry and what he expects from governments.