Yesterday, the European Commission released its EU textiles strategy, previously announced in the Circular Economy Action Plan, to much fanfare. The Strategy aims to ensure that by 2030, textile products placed on the EU market are long-lived and recyclable, with the goal of ending today’s ’fast fashion’’ culture.

The Strategy focuses mainly on measures related to the environmental part of sustainability. They include new design requirements for textiles under the Eco-design for Sustainable Products Initiative, clearer information on textiles and a Digital Product Passport which will include mandatory information requirements on circularity and other environmental aspects.

Trade unions welcome that these measures will force the industry to lower its environmental impact and provide consumers with more information. Social aspects are missing, however.

Given that the global textiles sector is known for its poor pay and working conditions, including in Europe, trade unions had expected and demanded a stronger focus on improving the situation of textile workers. As such, European trade unions have long been calling for action, both at EU and international level, to tackle unfair trading practices, increase transparency and traceability, and holding companies accountable for breaches of human rights and workers’ rights. Real due diligence must be ensured throughout the sector, in all companies, regardless of their location and size, as part of the move to a truly sustainable textiles sector.

Judith Kirton‐Darling, Deputy General Secretary for industriAll Europe, said:

‘’For trade unions, an EU sustainable textiles strategy needs to protect people and the planet. Although there are many welcome measures in the Commission’s textiles strategy in relation to greening the sector, the social element is missing yet again! The inclusion of the Commission’s proposal on due diligence doesn’t go far enough for the textiles sector which is 99% micro and small companies, and there is nothing in the Strategy on how to tackle unfair trading practices, which we know leads to poor pay, excessive overtime, and unsafe working conditions.’’

The move to a sustainable sector in Europe will require huge investment and planning at regional, national and European level. The success of this green transition relies on workers and they will be severely impacted by changes in processes and production. The Strategy refers to workers in relation to green and digital skills, but this is only part of the solution. As well as supporting the recently established EU Pact for Skills for the textiles eco-system, a strong EU industrial policy is needed to ensure that the sector can successfully transform without leaving any worker or region behind. Trade unions insist on real engagement with workers and trade unions to guarantee a Just Transition for all impacted workers and regions as part of the green transition of the textiles sector.

Judith Kirton‐Darling, added:

‘’Workers are at the heart of a sustainable and circular textiles sector, and concrete action is needed to ensure that the green transition of the sector is a just transition, which means leaving no worker or region behind. While we welcome the idea of creating more local jobs linked to the circular economy, trade unions insist that these are decent, quality jobs which respect occupational health and safety standards.

‘’We will continue to work with EU policy makers to ensure that workers benefit from the green transition of the textiles sector, and we look forward to playing a key role in the textiles eco-system Transition Pathway, which should have European workers at its centre.’’

Reaction of Civil Society: EN
industriAll Europe’s position paper: EN, DE, FR

Contact: Andrea Husen-Bradley (press and communication), Elspeth Hathaway (policy adviser)