The need for sustainability is particularly great in the textile industry, the problems are well known: In low-wage countries, clothes are made in inhumane conditions. Workers, some of whom are still children, have to handle toxic chemicals, earn poverty wages and have little free time. The environment is also extremely polluted by the textile industry. Cotton growing costs a lot of water, chemicals pollute the water. Globally, we read, the fashion industry alone is responsible for around ten percent of global CO2 emissions.
The central questions are therefore: How can this be changed? And what responsibility do consumers and businesses have? The congress on sustainable development of the Süddeutsche Zeitung also dealt with this on Thursday. Antje von Dewitz, who has run mountain sports outfitting company Vaude since 2009, and Wolfgang Grupp, owner of clothing manufacturer Trigema, provided some leads. Both companies are considered progressive in terms of sustainability in the textile industry.
Trigema, which achieved a turnover of 122 million euros last year, manufactures its clothes in Burladingen on the Swabian Alb, a former stronghold of the textile industry. In 2004, the company was the first to introduce ecologically degradable clothing: compostable t-shirts were causing a sensation. Vaude takes a similar path. The company, based in Tettnang (Lake Constance district), has been climate neutral for almost a decade. Environmentally friendly materials such as organic wool, bio-based plastic and hemp are used. The company requires its Asian suppliers to pay fair wages to the workforce and respect the environment.
“I also do this for personal interest”
The motive behind this progressivity is not only charity and respect for the environment. For Wolfgang Grupp, sustainable work is a “huge opportunity”, as he points out. Sustainability was increasingly important to his customers, so he was convinced that it was profitable for his business to transform high-quality materials into durable products. “I also do this for personal gain.” But over and over again, you hear the word “responsibility” when you ask about your personal definitions of sustainability.
Antje von Dewitz says: “As an entrepreneur, I have to be careful not to harm people or nature. We are part of a global problem. We must also be part of the solution. Wolfgang Grupp even believes that entrepreneurs should be legally obliged to take on this responsibility. “We need to take back the responsibility and the responsibility in society,” he demands. If contractors are “playing garbage,” they should also be held accountable.
But what role does the consumer play? From the point of view of the wholesaler Metro, which has an annual turnover of around 30 billion euros, Andrea Euenheim, member of the board of directors, speaks of “conflict”. Metro is also pursuing a sustainability program. But as a wholesaler you also have customers who depend on cheaper products for cost reasons. Ultimately, it is up to the customer to decide whether to choose the cheap eggs or the expensive eggs, for example. Antje von Dewitz, on the other hand, believes it is wrong to place the responsibility on the consumer. The decision cannot be left to him.
However, politicians also have a duty – in this regard, entrepreneurs unanimously welcome the new supply chain law that the Bundestag passed in June. From 2023, large German companies must demonstrate compliance with human rights due diligence obligations with their suppliers, such as the prohibition of child and forced labor or freedom of association. Vaude boss Antje von Dewitz had been vehemently defending the law, but Andrea Fütterer, the group’s supervisory authority, has mixed feelings about the future, so to speak. As the head of the Fair Trade Forum, which advocates for a level playing field in trade and agriculture, she sees the supply chain law and the new law against unfair trade practices as a big step forward. But on the other hand, Fütterer also knows the facts.
In fiscal year 2020, German consumers spent € 1.8 billion on fair trade products – there is a lot of room for improvement, says Fütterer. In fiscal 2020, sales of fair trade products even dropped slightly by 2.9%. Feeder, who has advised smallholders in Honduras and Nicaragua, is calling for a general overhaul in clothing and food prices. Your organization is committed to ending price dumping.