Why our RMG sector should support the Grüner Knopf initiative
I read with interest the recent news that the German Development Minister Gerd Müller formally launched the government’s “Grüner Knopf” (Green Button) apparel and textile seal, on September 9.
The seal serves as a certification mark that indicates to consumers that products comply with a number of predetermined social and environmental requirements.
Apparel and textile products have to fulfill 26 pre-determined social and environmental standards, which cover limitations on chemical residues, a total ban on hazardous chemicals, through to minimum wages, and guarantees of no child or forced labour.
In addition to the standards, each company that signs up to the initiative is examined on 20 separate business practice criteria, covering disclosure of suppliers, worker’s rights at the factories, and the company’s implementation of remediation with suppliers that do not fulfill the necessary compliance and social standards.
The Green Button scheme currently covers the production of apparel and the dyeing of the textiles used for production, but it is planned to expand its reach to cover all areas of production, including the harvesting of cotton.
The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) -- which owns the Green Button initiative, says the scheme is the first state-supervised certification mark that sets requirements for both products and companies.
State-supported initiatives such as the Green Button scheme should be encouraged by the entire apparel industry, but I question whether the efforts being made go far enough.
By taking the lead on these issues, the German government has shown what is possible in terms of enhancing a transparent supply chain and communicating with the end consumer.
However, the German government is acting in isolation and not as part of an all-encompassing international body that could impose the same set of criteria to all apparel being supplied globally.
As Uwe Wötzel of the Clean Clothes Campaign stated after the unveiling of the scheme: “The initiative is good, but the implementation is not.”
Additionally, one could argue, the last thing the Bangladesh apparel industry needs right now is another tier of compliance bureaucracy.
However, it is important to stress the positive aspects of the Green Button initiative -- the first-time state endorsed exercise -- which applies pressure on brands and retailers to analyze their business practices and is geared to engage the end consumer.
This worthy initiative deserves praise and also offers a number of opportunities for the Bangladesh RMG industry to both show its support to the German government and to learn from the exercise and explore ways of broadening the awareness amongst end consumers.
By implementing this unilateral program, the German government is somewhat isolated in its actions and, in some ways, laying themselves open to the criticism of naysayers.
However, state interaction with the apparel industry should be encouraged to further the cause of transparency and sustainability in the apparel industry.
The Bangladesh RMG industry is a key partner with the EU, and as Germany currently occupies the top spot as a destination for Bangladesh apparel and textiles, usurping the USA as the number one destination, with a share of some 17% of goods exported, we can offer support and advice from a manufacturing perspective.
By interacting proactively with our German customers, we have the opportunity to ensure that the products developed in the country are awarded the “Green Button” seal of approval and are promoted as part of the program.
Equally, we can encourage those German customers, not yet signed up to the scheme, to participate.
The jury is out on the effect and success of the Green Button program, but it is encouraging to see a state initiative that will be promoted to the populace of the home nation.
Time will tell what interest it will develop with the end consumer, but it is a step in the right direction.
We, as an industry, can learn from such initiatives. We have to understand that the key to the ongoing success and growth of the Bangladesh apparel sector is the engagement of the end consumer.
We need to be making them aware of the quality of RMG products emanating from the nation and sustainable advances that have been made within the industry.
Sadly, the lasting impression amongst our Western consumers is that of cheap products produced in conditions such as those that led to the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013.
Perhaps with the recent formation of the RMG Sustainability Council (RSC), we can consider a method of accreditation that is internationally recognized, that can be applied to garments and, most importantly, can be communicated to the end consumer.
All of us involved in the RMG sector can take heed and work with our business partners to develop a meaningful communication strategy that both satisfies the necessary stringent criteria but also offers an opportunity to raise end consumer awareness.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). He can be reached at [email protected]