Ploumen advocates fair purchasing practices for textiles

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen has called on clothing manufacturers and buyers in Bangladesh to introduce fair purchasing practices in the textile industry. ‘All too often clothing manufacturers are under tremendous pressure to turn out their products at low prices under impossible deadlines,’ the minister said. ‘Indeed, it’s those last few euros and that extra day of production time that make the difference between healthy working conditions and exploitation. A growing number of consumers are increasingly prepared to pay more for clothing produced under equitable conditions. It’s time for all parties to start working on this together.’

Today, Ms Ploumen is in Dhaka to attend a textile conference organised by the Netherlands in order to foster cooperation on promoting fair purchasing practices. Clothing manufacturers, clothing brands, trade unions and the Bangladeshi government have come together to work on boosting the sector’s sustainability. ‘To improve the lives of millions of textile workers, brands can’t simply focus on the bottom line; they also need to think about working conditions and environmental impact,’ the minister remarked. ‘Producers and buyers can make agreements about reasonable working hours and decent wages for workers. If all parties do their part, we can shift the focus from “quick profits” to “healthy profits”, which can benefit workers and consumers alike.’

To achieve this goal, Ms Ploumen has also called for greater transparency in the purchasing process: ‘Factory owners must publicise the ridiculously low prices that are paid for producing our shirts and trousers. Consumers have a right to greater transparency. Spread the word on social media; draw back the curtain and give the public a look at what’s going on. No seamstress can possibly support a family on the kind of wages now being paid. Producers also need to be able to say “no” to the big brands from time to time. When you join forces, you have more power.’

In Dhaka the minister also announced that the Netherlands would be the first country to support the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which aims to merge the many sustainability benchmarks in the textile sector into a single global standard. ‘At this point there are a lot of different standards, which makes it difficult for factories to comply with all the relevant rules,’ the minister noted. ‘If all brands use the same environmental and labour standards, it will be easier for them to measure their own performance and achieve greater sustainability. This would also result in greater clarity for consumers, who are increasingly interested in fair business practices.’

At Ms Ploumen’s request, the International Apparel Federation will also provide training courses to buyers and producers on sustainable purchasing practices: ‘How can factories and brands arrive at meaningful agreements about fair prices and good working and environmental conditions? This pilot programme with parties from Bangladesh can be expanded into other textile-producing countries: scandalous purchasing practices are certainly not limited to this part of the world.’

Yesterday, the minister visited a number of projects in Bangladesh where major results have been achieved during her term in office. More than half of all Bangladeshi girls marry before the age of 18. Four out of every 10 girls get pregnant as teenagers. Ms Ploumen was especially impressed by a Koranic school where young people are given sexual education. ‘I was impressed to see both boys and girls receiving sex education. There are a lot of myths about sex and the body here, and this project is helping to dispel them. Over the past few years, at least 2.5 million pupils in schools like these have been taught about contraception, domestic violence and child marriage. This gives people greater control over their future and health.’ During her visit – her fourth to Bangladesh – Ms Ploumen also spoke with the Minister of Trade.