Responsible business conduct in Italian clothing sector

The clothing industry has historically played an important role in the Italian economy. In 2011, Italy’s clothing sector comprised 31,350 companies and employed about 222,000 workers. Like many other manufacturing industries, the garment industry faces significant sustainability challenges in the supply chain. For example, according to public information, several Italian companies where implicated in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013.

rmgConsidering the strategic role of the Italian clothing sector – at home and abroad – the Italian government released the action plan on Bangladesh in September 2013 to promote responsible business conduct in the textile and garment supply chain. The action plan was developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) National Contact Point (NCP), situated within the Italian Ministry of Economic Development.

Benedetta Francesconi, head of the NCP’s secretariat at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, describes the action plan.

Why did the Italian government decide to adopt the action plan on Bangladesh?

The activities of the Italian NCP build upon the joint statement of the NCPs of governments adhering to the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises, which was signed on 25 June 2013. Acknowledging that abandoning production in Bangladesh might further worsen the situation of factory workers, the NCPs highlighted the importance of the OECD guidelines, as well as the necessity of action at the national level to define strategies and best practices for carrying out risk based due diligence along the garment supply chain.

Following up on this joint statement, on 29 September 2013, the Italian NCP released the action plan for Bangladesh. Its aim is to encourage Italian textile companies to adopt and strengthen their due diligence processes in the garment supply chain, engage in multi-stakeholder initiatives and comply with international framework agreements.

What are the core elements of the action plan and what are the expectations for Italian companies?

The action plan includes two lines of action. The first concerns the involvement of Italian textile companies operating in Bangladesh. The aim is to raise their level of awareness of management solutions in relation to suppliers, international initiatives (such as the accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh) and existing opportunities for training and assistance. The second focuses on identifying common problems and widespread challenges in the textile and garment sector, to identify possible remedies.

The Report on Responsible Business Conduct in the Textile and Garment Supply Chain is one of the main results of the action plan in Bangladesh. The report was developed through extensive consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including enterprises, trade and consumer associations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, business consultancies and UN organisations. The report has been widely recognised nationally and internationally, and will be one of the reference documents used for future OECD work in the textile sector.

The report includes operational recommendations to help companies adhere to the OECD guidelines and find effective solutions to complex challenges in supply chain management. All efforts of the Italian NCP are oriented towards promoting a preventive approach among companies rather than a reactive one, which includes collective action to tackle systemic problems. This implies a commitment to responsible business conduct based on the OECD guidelines, relevant ILO conventions and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. More operationally, the Italian NCP invites companies to join and establish multi-stakeholder platforms for collective action and to set common industry based standards that cover different sustainability challenges in the supply chain.

The Italian NCP will continue to work on implementing the action plan at both the national and international level. This will be done in co-operation with the OECD and other international organisations such as ILO and UNICEF, as well as in a continuous dialogue with business enterprises and other stakeholders.

Are there other measures the government is taking to encourage companies to promote children’s rights in global supply chains, including in the garment sector?

The report contains an explicit reference to the activities carried out by UNICEF in Bangladesh. More specifically, it highlights the multi-stakeholder initiative UNICEF is launching in 2015 that will work with international companies, local factories, civil society organisations and government agencies to promote child-friendly business practices in the garment sector in Bangladesh.

The Italian NCP has also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Italian Committee for UNICEF to raise awareness among Italian companies of their direct and indirect impact on children’s rights. The NCP will support the efforts of the Italian Committee to set up thematic and industry-wide business laboratories where companies can share experiences and improve their understanding and capacity to address children’s rights issues in their global operations and business relationships.