Background: The garment sector, particularly the ‘fast fashion’ subsector, has come under public scrutiny due to a series of human rights violations and industrial accidents, including the deadly Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013.
Following the Bangladesh tragedy, the European Commission pledged to launch an EU flagship initiative to bolster responsible management in the garment industry. To date, this
initiative has not been launched. instead, the EU has focused on voluntary measures and has
supported initiatives to promote a sustainable garment supply chain regionally and globally.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the reasons for the EU’s non-legislative approach to a socially sustainable garment supply chain. It aims to shed light on the divergent approaches of the EU institutions to the EU flagship initiative on the garment sector and on the consequences for EU policy.
The method used is the ‘case study’ model, based on: a review of relevant literature from the EU institutions; an identification of key EU-level stakeholders and an analysis of their positions, and lobbying campaigns; and qualitative research based on face-to-face interviews of key EU officers and other stakeholders.
• The Commission’s plans for an EU flagship initiative on the garment sector got stranded.
the Commission’s plans for an EU flagship initiative fell short in building momentum within the Commission and in Member States, and failed to deliver an all- encompassing strategy at EU level. Additionally, DG DEVCO had either the core competence nor plans
to develop legislation on mandatory due diligence in the garment sector.
• The Parliament’s resolution on the EU flagship initiative—calling for EU legislation on mandatory due diligence in the garment sector—led to a dead end. The Parliament failed
to convince the Commission to put forward a legislative proposal on due diligence in the garment supply chain.
The Commission considered that developing new legislation on Mandatory due diligence for companies based in the EU was not a priority. Commission officials alleged that it was necessary to evaluate the impact of the recently adopted EU directive on non-financial reporting, which was due for transposition to the national level in December 2016 (EP, 2019a).
• The Council of the EU supported voluntary initiatives rather than the development of new EU legislation on mandatory due diligence in the garment sector. The Council called on the Commission to support sustainable garment supply chains in a comprehensive manner, beyond cooperation and development policy, promoting a safer, greener and fairer garment industry (Council, 2017). However, the Commission failed to deliver a
common strategy on the sustainability of garment supply chains (Alcain, 2019c).
• The topic of human rights in business could gather momentum in the EU’s new political agenda, taking into account the following elements: the Parliament’s recent calls for EU legislation on mandatory due diligence in global supply chains, the Commission’s
reflection paper ‘Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030’, and the EU action plan on sustainable finance. Additionally, the commission President-elect has placed sustainability at the core of the EU’s trade policy in her political guidelines for the next Commission’s mandate in 2019-2024.
• A new paradigm is necessary in global fashion retail, that of a responsible company which guarantees due diligence, traceability, and transparency throughout the garment supply
• The EU is well placed to set the right conditions for a truly responsible and fair garment
supply chain, but this requires a firm commitment and resolute action from all EU institutions and other key stakeholders.
• The goal of making global garment supply chains more socially sustainable should not only be high on the new Commission’s political agenda. It should be followed by a coherent policy implementation by all relevant Commission DGs.
• The topic of human rights in business should and is likely to become a priority for several Parliament committees