Why education and advocacy should drive EU engagement: An interview with the Policy Hub

Ohana’s new series of interviews with companies, industry associations, and policymakers is a must for organizations who want to learn how to engage effectively with the EU policy landscape.

Earlier this summer, we kicked off the series by speaking with eco-friendly textiles company Sympatex, who told us how small players can get their voice heard in Brussels.

Our new interview is a conversation with Bente Bauer, Public Affairs Manager at the Policy Hub – Circularity for Apparel & Footwear, a platform for textile industry stakeholders who want to maximize their sustainability impact through public affairs. We cover key topics including:

  • Why textile companies need to engage with EU policymakers
  • Why diverse industry stakeholders should speak in one shared voice
  • Why a combination of education and advocacy is the best way to make an impact

Read on to learn how Bente answers core questions on the Policy Hub, public affairs, and circularity in textiles. Her insights will inspire companies to dive deeper into policy engagement for sustainable industry change.

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your company’s public affairs engagement? Get in touch!

The Policy Hub’s vision

First, we asked Bente to explain the important role the Policy Hub – Circularity for Apparel & Footwear  plays in connecting the textile industry with EU circular economy and transparency legislation. 

The Policy Hub was founded in 2019 as a joint platform of three organizations:

This year, the platform expanded their expertise and network by adding two new partner organizations, Textile Exchange and ZDHC Foundation. These organisations represent over 500 apparel and footwear stakeholders, including retailers, brands, manufacturers, and NGOs.

The Policy Hub has a clear vision: in Bente’s words, “to accelerate a circular economy for the apparel and footwear sector by engaging in a legislative framework.”

They achieve this through policy education, alignment, and advocacy with a diverse range of stakeholders.

A big part of what Bente does is “at the crossroads of companies, civil society, and policymakers.”

The Policy Hub coordinates large and small players all across the textile supply chain, from retailers like H&M Group to manufacturers like TAL Apparel Limited as well as civil stakeholder organizations. By “making sure we align on key topics,” they aim “to formulate one common position to bring to EU policy makers.”

Policymakers also reach out to the Policy Hub to better understand the challenges and day-to-day realities of industry stakeholders.

Why is it so important for industry to engage with Brussels?

Bente reminds us that it’s critical for all organizations to get involved with EU policymakers.

“I cannot emphasize this enough,” she said, “it’s super important to be engaged in this discussion.” She explains that “​​Brussels has a major practical impact on companies’ operations: how they design products, how they do marketing, how they treat waste, how they access recycled materials.” 

Companies don’t always have the time or resources to keep up with all of these policy topics, which is where the Policy Hub comes in: “we follow all of this legislation to make sure that companies are represented in the discussions.” 

Though it’s also important for textile companies to connect with member states on sustainability issues, the EU sets the overarching framework for the legislation member states to follow, and EU policymakers have shown their willingness to set ambitious climate goals

That means Brussels should be a top priority for textile industry stakeholders who want to get their voice heard and make a real difference on sustainability. 

Bente points out that changes at the EU level “also impact companies globally,” driving the entire textile supply chain worldwide towards more sustainable, circular business models

How can diverse industry stakeholders create a unified position? 

The Policy Hub – Circularity for Apparel & Footwear creates a platform for diverse textile industry players to collaborate with stakeholders in the policymaking process, but they ultimately aim to “bring one voice to European policymakers.” 

Why? “The more policymakers hear the same message, the more it will stick.” By presenting a united front, the textile industry can amplify its voice to shape sustainability strategy. 

There’s another reason, too. When different stakeholders come together to support certain policy positions, it shows evidence of “buy-in from manufacturers, brand retailers, small companies, and big multinationals all over the globe” which helps to convince policymakers. 

So how does the Policy Hub bring such distinct industry players together to show Brussels a unified voice? 

When there’s a divergence of opinion, Bente says that what’s important is agreeing on a common high-level vision: “If we agree on that, we can accept some differences in the details and perspectives on how to get there and continue the dialogue.” 

She highlights the importance of taking the time to “come up with a strong position” that works for all stakeholders, rather than going with a less ambitious plan because it’s the lowest common denominator all parties can agree on. 

The diversity of textile industry stakeholders is also a source of creativity and new ideas that strengthen policy proposals. 

Which sustainability policies are most important right now?  

The Policy Hub’s ultimate goal is to drive circularity within the textiles industry which shapes their policy focus. 

Bente says there’s a constant “push and pull” around which policies are most important to focus on. They’re led by what members want to prioritize, but they also pay close attention to the areas policymakers ask them about.

Right now, she says, the four most urgent policy topics for circularity and textiles include: 

Bente emphasizes the importance of engaging with different EU bodies throughout the entire policymaking process

Recently, they’ve been working closely with the EU Commission on the early stages of developing key policy proposals. Now, as these proposals move further along the co-decision process, they’re rallying members to engage with members of the EU Parliament and European Council as the next step. 

How can organizations engage effectively with the EU?

Bente says that the first step for companies who are out of the loop with what’s happening in Brussels is to inform themselves and ask the right questions internally. Once they’ve figured out the key policy questions they need to answer, then they should “contribute to the discussion” as early as possible. 

As well as educating themselves internally, organizations should seek to educate policymakers before lobbying for their position. 

At the Policy Hub, “first we educate, and then we advocate”. Bente points out that “if policymakers don’t fully understand what the industry is and how it works, you can’t really advocate effectively.”

Education is especially important in the textile industry, because, as Bente comments, “there are a lot of misconceptions both from policymakers and the public. Often, they aren’t aware of very practical aspects of the industry: How does the value chain work? Who owns the factories? What part do brands and retailers play?”

“The role of industry associations – and organizations – is to bring that bigger picture to policymakers”, Bente says. 

By engaging with platforms like the Policy Hub, and building relationships with policymakers, textile companies can make sure the EU’s sustainability and circularity initiatives are ambitious, feasible, and transformative with the industry

Want someone with deep experience and connections in the EU to help guide your company’s public affairs engagement? Get in touch!

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