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The Dutch government, along with a coalition of trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and industry groups, has pledged to address the myriad social and environmental issues endemic to garment- and textile-producing countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. An agreement, drafted under the eye of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands, lists child and forced labor, environmental pollution, living wages, better working conditions, and animal welfare among the key areas that require “practical improvements.” The covenant is still in its early stages. Not only does it need to secure funding, but it also has to secure the signatures of at least 35 brands and retailers—representing 30 percent of sales in the Netherlands—by June.

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All signatories, with the help of participating trade unions and civil groups, have to commit to a number of objectives: protection from discrimination, protection from child labor, protection from forced labor, promoting a meaningful dialogue with independent employee representatives, a living wage, a safe and healthier environment for employees, reducing environmental impact (particularly through the creation of a circular economy), prevention of animal suffering, reducing the expenditure of water, energy, and chemicals, and reducing chemical waste and wastewater.

Brands will be required to identify the issues affecting their suppliers at all stages of their supply chains. They’ll also be expected to draw up an “annual improvement plan” with specific goals over the next three to five years.

Every year, all parties must issue a joint report on their activities under the agreement and the results they have achieved.

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The Dutch government says it hopes 80 percent of clothing companies will be on board by 2020, since the covenant’s success hinges on the support and financial assistance of its members.

“By signing this agreement, these parties are committing themselves jointly for the first time to making the sector sustainable,” Mariëtte Hamer, chair of the SER, said in a statement. “This is a breakthrough.”

Lilianne Ploumen, the the Dutch minister for foreign trade and international development, hailed the agreement as a “great step forward in combating malpractices in the garment and textile industry in developing countries.”

“This is very good news for all those people who are still working excessively long days in dangerous conditions for very low pay,” she said. “It’s also good news for the industry as a whole and for the consumer: everyone will be better off as a result.”

+ Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands