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BERLIN – Germany's Grüner Knopf (Green Button) government-run sustainability scheme has responded to criticisms from NGOs that it is failing to meet its promises on ensuring brands address social and environmental concerns.

Two NGOs, the Swiss organisation Public Eye and FEMNET which promotes women's development in Africa, recently produced a report highlighting what they saw as "deficiencies" in the initiative's standard and testing process.

The German Ministry of Development (BMZ), which set up the Green Button project two years ago, rejects the accusations, insisting that the programme "delivers what it promises".

In a statement, the BMZ said: "The fundamental criticism of the Green Button in the report concerns aspects that in many ways go beyond what the Green Button itself claims to do."

The Green Button was still in its introductory phase and the BMZ was aware it needed to develop.

"That is why, even under the Green Button 1.0, numerous adjustments have been undertaken and why intensive efforts are being made to establish an even more ambitious standard for the Green Button 2.0," continued the statement.

Public Eye and FEMNET analysed the annual reports of 31 fashion companies whose products had been approved by the Green Button verification system.

They said that only eight addressed human rights risks in their supply chain and that just two reported on the extent and severity of the risk of non-living wages for garment workers.

"In view of these findings, the BMZ must quickly take countermeasures and thus prevent its label from being subjected to a superficial due diligence and thus greenwashing," the NGOs said.

BMZ said the NGOs had focused on what companies said about their corporate due diligence in their public reports rather than the findings of independent auditors which addressed any gaps in those reports.

However, it had passed on the NGOs' report to its Green Button Secretariat to follow up on any valid points and this had led to one company being challenged over its lack of a policy statement.

BMZ also rejected the criticism that the Green Button was a voluntary initiative, pointing out that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights called for both voluntary and binding measures.

"Even after a due diligence law has been put in place, the Green Button will remain as a voluntary label that the German government will award to sustainability pioneers who go beyond the minimum standards required by law," it said.

It also challenged the NGOs' claims that the Green Button required no evidence of compliance for products manufactured in the European Union (EU)

"Regardless of whether the textiles in question have been produced in Germany, the EU or elsewhere, the due diligence requirements of the Green Button apply for all companies involved," it insisted.

And it also defended itself on criticisms from the NGOs that it did not cover the entire garment production process.

"The Green Button delivers what it promises: from the very start, it has been communicated publicly and transparently that, in its introductory phase, the Green Button will initially cover the key production stages of 'cutting and sewing' and 'bleaching and dyeing'," said the statement.

"As already stated at its launch, the Green Button will cover further production stages in the future. Right now, we are looking into the possibilities for extending the label to cover fibre production."

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