New seal for fair clothing: green button meets with skepticism

Companies are considering introducing the new government seal for sustainable textiles. But does it deliver what it promises?

Working conditions in the textile industry are often deplorable Photo: Mushfiqul Alam/NurPhoto

The Green Button, the new seal for sustainable textiles from Development Minister Gerd Muller (CSU), is apparently in the home stretch. The first companies say they are participating or seriously considering participation. The Green Button is intended to make products with special ecological and social quality more visible to consumers* in stores.

"Lidl Germany is open to the idea of the Green Button," said a spokeswoman for the discount chain. "We can imagine implementing it," said outdoor clothing company Vaude. The KiK and Tchibo retail chains are also interested under certain conditions. In addition, Hess Natur, Otto and Rewe are said to have participated in the preliminary discussions. However, these companies did not want to comment. Muller recently said he would start with an initial ten companies next July.

"The Green Button is a government meta-seal for socially and ecologically sustainably produced textiles," reads the 36-page concept from the Development Ministry, which is available to taz. It lays out the "structures, processes and criteria." On the one hand, participating companies must fulfill conditions at the corporate level. These are based on the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights. For example, they must ensure that the social rights of employees are also observed in their foreign supplier factories. Every company is obliged to introduce a "complaints mechanism" so that workers can exercise their right not to fear reprisals.

In addition, the products awarded with the Green Button should meet some conditions. Garments that already carry existing seals such as Gots, Best, Fair Wear or Fairtrade are eligible. Gots, for example, certifies the ecological quality of the cotton. The Fair Wear seal states, among other things, that workers’ pay is moving toward living wages. It is unclear whether one seal is sufficient or whether several certificates for ecological and social quality must be combined.

The criteria are too vague

But textile retailers who do not use existing seals so far can also receive the Green Button. Then they are to prove the sustainability of their production individually. Among the criteria mentioned for this, however, there is no mention of living wages, i.e. sufficient wages. The ministry only mentions that the "statutory minimum wages" of the producing countries must be complied with. However, these are often too low to allow workers* to live a reasonable life.

"The criteria are still too vague," said therefore Gisela Burckhardt from the Clean Clothes Campaign. She also said it was "unacceptable" that products manufactured within the EU could automatically receive the Green Button. Burckhardt referred to the sometimes poor working conditions in Bulgaria and Romania, for example. She went on to stress that Muller’s seal was only valid for the last stage of textile production, known as garment manufacturing, for the time being.

Because the new state seal primarily certifies that existing certificates are complied with, it does not by itself bring any additional ecological and social quality. The working conditions of the employees in the factories do not necessarily improve when the Green Button is attached to a pair of jeans. Muller’s seal can, however, contribute to an increase in the purchase of sustainable products. This may increase the market for socially and environmentally responsible textiles. According to the ministry’s concept, "The Green Button is intended to give consumers guidance when shopping."

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