In its July plenary the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called on the European Commission to strengthen the social aspects of key proposals to align EU rules on sustainable products, ecodesign and sustainable textiles.
The proposals are part of the new EU’s circular economy plan and will increase efforts to make Europe less resource dependent in the face of current crises, which include the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine and climate change.
In the opinion on the sustainable products roadmap and the ecodesign regulation, the EESC believes the EU’s circular economy strategy will succeed only if producers, consumers and workers as well as authorities are properly involved and informed.
Its successful implementation will require clear, sound and consistent rules. These are needed to ensure sustainable products are competitive and to make the transition to a circular economy more inclusive.
In addition, the new proposal, included in the "Fit for 55" under the title : "CBAM (Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism)", which provides for the taxation of CO2 produced in non-EU processing, is an excellent incentive to improve production and the environment.
Opinion rapporteur Thomas Wagnsonner welcomed the new elements of the proposed ecodesign regulation, which will cover a wider range of products, beyond energy-related ones, to include textiles, for example.
New requirements on product durability, repairability, recycling, environmental impact and CO2 emissions, for example, and improved rules on the information provided on digital product passports and labels are needed for the circular economy transition.
However, the proposed regulation overlooks the social dimension. A reference to the Commission's proposed Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence seems insufficient.
The social dimension has to be strengthened in the requirements for sustainable products, but unfortunately it is left out of the regulation, he noted.
It is absolutely necessary that all three dimensions – economic, social and environmental sustainability – must always be dealt with in tandem. Therefore, the EESC calls on the Commission to re-examine the regulation to include product-specific social aspects as well.
Stepping up measures to include the social dimension are also needed for the proposed strategy for sustainable textiles, part of the sustainable products package.
In a separate EESC opinion on sustainable textiles, rapporteur Florian Marin said that more emphasis is needed on social aspects in the textile sector, notably on workers’ rights and collective bargaining.
We were expecting more measures on the social aspects as the green transition must go hand in hand with a just transition, he said and he called for strict measures that prohibit economic relations with entities that use child labour or fail to respect decent working conditions.
Furthermore, EESC suggests that people should buy and wear clothes with a sense of responsibility. Some textile workers live in a perpetual cycle of work poverty and their children will likely face a similar situation in the future.
When we wear clothes, we should have in mind that it is unfair and unethical if our comfort is based on the poverty of others, said Mr Marin.
In line with this call, investments and programmes are needed to improve the capacity of inspection institutions and the operational capacity of social partners to monitor global agreements and workers' rights.
The co-rapporteur for the opinion, Antonello Pezzini, underlined that the textile industry had the potential to contribute to the EU's environmental goals, and must become accountable for its environmental impact.
The right balance must be struck between the end-of-life costs for textile producers and the competitiveness of the industry, he said.
Unfair competition practices prevail in the industry. To counter an unfair advantage the EESC is asking for increased market surveillance on imported products and better coordination and cooperation between enforcement authorities.
Mr Pezzini suggested that the EESC should work with the Commission to design import duties that are to be levied at the external borders for imports of textiles that do not respect the strict EU norms.
Finally, to ensure equilibrium between businesses and others in textile supply chains the EESC recommends the launch of global best practices on sustainability.