The two-day International Convention on Sustainable Trade & Standards (ICSTS) was jointly organised in Delhi by Quality Council of India and United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS). The event besides debating on key issues on sustainable practices, also witnessed the launch of the UNFSS’s 3rd Flagship Report: Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS), trade and sustainable development which insisted on the use of ecolabels. There were sessions on various topics covering a wide range of concerns with regard to many industries. From the textile and apparel sector, there were representatives from Ikea, GOTS, Armstrong Spinning Mills, FairTrade Foundation, Textiles Committee, and EPCH, to name a few. Interestingly, session touched upon many aspects of sustainability and standards regarding Indian apparel industry.
The origin of ICSTS is rooted in the philosophy of Private Sustainability Standards (PSS) platform to institutionalize an inclusive inter-governmental, multi-stakeholder platform for the fraternity engaged in the sustainability standards ecosystem to gain access to each other and engage in dialogue, deliberation, and access to agenda-setting in the domain.
With focus on textile and apparel sector, the event had an exclusive session on ‘Strengthening multi-stakeholder sectoral initiatives and responsible sourcing decisions in textile value chains’ in which speakers from different backgrounds expressed their views. It was interesting, as speakers reaffirmed that not only were the exporters concerned about sustainability, but now even in the Indian domestic market, the consumers are becoming more aware and are asking about sustainable aspects.
Some of the textile and apparel companies’ representatives also participated in the event. A. Narayanasamy, GM (Tech), Armstrong Spinning Mills raised the question about Textiles Committee’s parameters regarding the star system of ginning and pressing factories.
Talking at length on the same, Sumit Gupta, Deputy Director, Standards Development & QA, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) shared, “Indian consumers are also coming up with a demand for such certified products. Some of the companies producing for Indian domestic consumption are now adopting certifications which were earlier mainly required from an export perspective only.” He further added that GOTS is a truly multi-stakeholder standard as it is associated with nearly 40 international organisations that contribute to the development and revision of the standard (GOTS). GOTS acknowledges the work done by other standards. Available audit reports from accepted standards are considered during GOTS audits. In India, out of the total nearly 1800 GOTS-certified facilities, a majority of them are MSME.
Various speakers were of the opinion that capacity building is very much required for MSMEs regarding sustainable initiatives as MSMEs are the backbone of the textile and apparel sector. TK Rout, Deputy Director, Market Research, Textiles Committee insisted that the MSME sector’s growth should not be hampered only due to lack of resources and missing know-how. “Cost of compliance is somewhere around 6 to 7 per cent of the turnover of a company which is quite high, so the capacity building is a collective responsibility,” he said and explained how the efforts of the Textiles Committee is improving not only the quality of Indian products but also sustainable approach to manufacturing. “Cotton contamination is still an issue for India and Textiles Committee is associated with a good number of Ginning and Pressing units, to improve the overall condition of cotton by star rating system,” he added.
Snigdha Pramanik, Deputy Sustainability Manager, Ikea India shared that Ikea is very particular regarding sustainability. “We have zero tolerance as far as rules, regulations, and standards are concerned. We are promoting social entrepreneurship in economically weaker sections, especially to the women and supporting efforts to integrate them into our supply chain,” she added.
Subindu Garkhel, Cotton and Textiles Lead, Fair Trade Foundation highlighted that cotton farmers need more attention and support from the textile industry. “Cotton farmers are not getting their deserving space in the textile supply chain. Someone has to pay the price, be it customer, farmer, or any other stakeholder in the supply chain or nature,” she said.
Testing and inspection organisations were also part of the discussions and their representatives touched upon many aspects, like Charan Singh, VP and Regional Director, TÜV Rheinland stressed that as the industry is evolving, proper chemical management is the key at this moment. Even Indian customers are insisting on azo-free products. Though a lot of work has been done in this area in the recent years, but there is a need to do more in the same direction. Sarath Chandran, Director RSJ Inspection Service focussed on multi-stakeholder approach and shared his bitter experience of how he tried to be associated with four organizations working in the sustainable zone, but could not succeed as their approach was not supportive of collaboration.
Sanjeevan Bajaj, Advisor, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) drew attention to the fact that marine litter is the emerging challenge for the world and increased use of synthetic-base fibre is also one of the reasons for the same. She also appreciated the efforts of Southern Indian States especially Tamil Nadu in the use of natural energy.
Moderator of the session, Rene Van Berkel, UNIDO Representative India concluded the discussion by appreciating the changing dynamics of Indian textile industry and declared that not only does the industry seem quite aware of sustainable issues, but initiatives are also gaining momentum, be it of sustainability standards or improvement areas within the sustainability concept.