Alignment between initiatives at the European level: AGT, PST and SAC stress the potential for scaling up due diligence implementation in the garment sector

Ten years following the update of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the launch of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, there is growing consensus across governments, intergovernmental organisations and other stakeholders that due diligence is at the core of responsible business conduct especially with regard to supply chain responsibility.
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The concept of due diligence draws from the recognition that the challenges of modern and complex garment and footwear supply chains require a comprehensive and integrated approach to manage sector risks that clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of brands, retailers, producers, governments, NGOs and trade unions in this regard.

During the 6th Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector, which took place in Paris from February 11 through 13, 2020, specific attention was given to the potential for scaling up due diligence implementation in the garment sector.

Since 2010, there has been a wide range of responses by industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives, governments, civil society and investors to build capacity around, evaluate and monitor company due diligence implementation. These include, but are not limited to:

    the government-backed multi-stakeholder initiatives in the Netherlands and Germany (the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile, AGT; and the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, PST) as well as the to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), each of which have developed assessment and reporting frameworks based on the OECD Guidance;
  • a rise of disclosure and due diligence legislation in OECD countries including in California, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia. Some governments have likewise developed sustainability labels – with the Green Button being amongst the first in the garment and footwear sector to incorporate due diligence indicators;
  • an increase in third-party sustainability and due diligence indexes and benchmarks which seek to measure company performance vis-à-vis their supply chains. While indexes have traditionally been CSR focused, in recent years there has been a shift towards due diligence benchmarks, such as Know the Chain, Fashion Revolution, and the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark. In addition, civil society organisations (CSOs) have been advocating for the adoption of mandatory due diligence legislation.
  • investors are increasingly assuming their role to seek to mitigate environmental, labour, and human rights risks in their underlying companies while recognizing the financial materiality that such risks may bring. This has been accompanied by a flourishing of ESG products and benchmarks directly targeting investors.

The perspective of the AGT, PST and SAC: the need for a harmonised European approach to due diligence

in the past two years the AGT, PST and SAC have been cooperating in order to move towards a harmonised assessment framework for company due diligence that is aligned with OECD Guidance. In 2018/2019, the three initiatives participated in the OECD Alignment Assessment which aims at contributing to a common understanding of due diligence in the garment and footwear sector and enabling cross-recognition between initiatives. The results and recommendations of the OECD Alignment Assessments provide the basis for further alignment between the three initiatives. In addition, AGT, PST and SAC have been exploring the potential for an European initiative aimed at developing a harmonized assessment and reporting framework for due diligence implementation in the garment and footwear sector.

Given the above context and based on their experience and previous collaboration, the AGT, PST and SAC stressed the need for a level playing field and a common understanding of what due diligence looks like that extends beyond the AGT, PST and SAC – in other words, at the European level. Especially given the European or even global reach of many companies in the industry, through mutual exchange between the three initiatives and other interested stakeholders, a harmonised European approach to due diligence assessment and reporting could and should be created.

The AGT was well represented, with many parties present: CNV, Arisa, Solidaridad, Unicef, Four Paws, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, INretail and Modint. The delegation of the AGT secretariat consisted of Ruth Vermeulen, Christine van Dorp and Jef Wintermans.