Germany takes important steps towards sustainable textile procurement

September 14, 2021 •

Laura Döring, MSc, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

Ilda Sukurica, Junior Advisor, German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ)

It is well known that garment value chains are prone to precarious working conditions. Especially since the horrific Rana Plaza incident in 2013, worldwide efforts to improve safety and working conditions in the garment industry have increased. Due to their high purchasing volumes, public institutions have a specific responsibility to ensure the purchased products are produced in a sustainable manner, respecting the human rights of each individual working in the supply chain.

The German government committed to increase the sustainability of its textile procurement in 2015. The sustainability action plan (Maßnahmenprogramm Nachhaltigkeit) of the German government, as part of Germany’s sustainability strategy, lays out several goals to be implemented by the German administration. One of those goals sets out that 50% of public textile procurement needs to be in accordance with social and environmental criteria, excluding textiles with specific properties such as protective equipment.

To work towards that goal, in January 2021 the German government published a new guideline for sustainable textile procurement of the German federal administration (Leitfaden der Bundesregierung für eine nachhaltige Textilbeschaffung der Bundesverwaltung). The document sets out concrete steps that can be taken for the sustainable procurement of textiles, divided into three categories: apparel textiles and garments, bedding and linen and matrasses. While the guideline directly addresses four major federal procuring agencies, it is also meant to serve as an orientation for other agencies, federal states and municipalities. The guideline presents specific ways of integrating sustainability criteria and standards/labels in compliance with the existing frameworks of German and European procurement law. It thus ensures legal certainty.

Three steps to address the whole textile supply chain

The guideline describes in detail how social and environmental sustainability criteria can be incorporated into tender documents at different stages of the procurement process: the selection criteria, specification for tenders, award criteria, conditions for execution.

The guideline is based on three stages, encompassing the whole production process of textiles:

In all three stages of the process set out in the guideline, the social sustainability criteria encompass a range of ILO conventions as well as additional propositions such as a living wage. The guideline also contains ecological criteria, e.g. limits for chemicals of concern in the final product as well as ecological cultivation of raw materials, a limit on pesticides and limits for chemical effluents in the production (e.g. dyeing plants).

Human Rights in the procurement process

The guideline specifically refers to human right in its introductory chapter: the social sustainability criteria mentioned in the document encompass fundamental workers rights, which are closely tied to human rights. The requirements set out by the guideline are also based on the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. In accordance with the OECD Guidance, the compliance with social criteria needs to be ensured by means of the contract performance and the documentation of due diligence measures such as risk analyses of their supply chains and production sites.  The guideline is therefore giving guidance on how to protect basic human rights during procurement, which is why it is considered as contributing to the German National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights.

An enforcement mechanism has also been enshrined in the German Due Diligence Act, which was concluded on June 25 2021. It is coming into force in 2023. Fines can be imposed for violations of the law. Depending on the nature of the violation, the company can also be excluded from public procurement if the fine exceeds 175,000 euros. This means that the Due Diligence Act may also have an impact on public sector contract award decisions in the future.