Emanuel Chirico

PVH Corp. is taking its commitment to the environment and sustainability to higher levels.

On Monday, the company said it has expanded its engagement with the United Nations by signing onto the U.N. Global Compact, joining more than 9,000 corporate members in recognizing business’ ability to lead change on the global sustainable development agenda, with a focus on the apparel industry.

PVH and its Tommy Hilfiger business have also signed the CEO Water Mandate, an initiative to mobilize business leaders to advance water stewardship and to improve access to clean water and sanitation. Earlier this year PVH signed the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles to reinforce its commitment to gender equality in the workplace.

“The world is changing rapidly,” said Emanuel Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH. “We recognize both the opportunity and the responsibility for business to take a lead role in addressing pressing global issues. We believe that by partnering with the United Nations through our commitment to the U.N. Global Compact, CEO Water Mandate and Women’s Empowerment Principles, we can better drive progress in the areas that matter most to our business, our industry and the world more broadly.”

Chirico said by being involved and committing to initiatives such as these, “it shows internally to our own people and externally to our partners and to our shareholders around the world our commitment to corporate responsibility.”

He said such agreements and policies are “catalysts for change as we move forward for the industry at large,” and that the consumer has shown PVH and its brands that it’s important to them because “it tells them the story of what we are and what we stand for.”

Chirico said committing to such initiatives is cultural and strategic within the company.

“It means time and people,” he said. “We’re committing our resources to align with these initiatives, 90 percent of which we were doing. In those few areas that we weren’t it was mostly a matter of disclosure. These agreements are a roadmap of where we should be headed as a company.”

The UN Global Compact is a call to companies around the world to align their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anticorruption, and to take action in support of UN goals and issues embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals. Launched in 2000, it is the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, with more than 9,000 companies and 3,000 non-business signatories based in over 160 countries, and more than 80 Local Networks.

PVH’s actions come at what could be a critical juncture for environmental issues and the commitment by apparel and textile companies to sustainability. Experts are concerned about President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump’s apparent commitment to encourage more coal mining and his uncertain commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.

Chirico, who is on the Presidential Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, said he’s not as concerned about the U.S. cutting back its environmental commitments as much as what will happen on trade.

“There’s enough going forward in initiatives that are built into business strategies that I don’t see a rollback,” he said. “My concerns center more around some of the trade issues. President-elect Trump has some important points to make concerning a level playing field. Is there a level playing field when you’re talking about China? No, there’s not. So we should see what we can do to address those issues, but we can’t take them to the nth degree and have a trade war because that would be non-productive.”

PVH has long been in the forefront in the area of Corporate Responsibility issues. This year, the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of “A Shared Commitment,” its code of conduct for business partners that helped usher in a new era of social compliance in the apparel industry when it was published in 1991. PVH has also been an affiliate of the Fair Labor Association, a multistakeholder initiative uniting companies, universities and civil society organizations to protect workers’ rights and find solutions to industrywide labor issues, since its inception.

Earlier this year, PVH launched an enhanced global CR strategy structured with 10 commitments across three key focus areas: empowering people, preserving the environment and supporting communities. The strategies support 14 of the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, covering issues such as building safety, chemical management, greenhouse gases, inclusion and diversity and supporting the needs of women and children.

With the apparel and textile industry a major contributor to water usage, notably in cotton cultivation, PVH said water is an area of increasing importance for the apparel sector and, following Tommy Hilfiger’s pioneering work on water through its multiyear partnership with WWF International, the group will work in alignment with the CEO Water Mandate to drive progress on its goal to safeguard and preserve water resources. Tommy Hilfiger has also signed the CEO Water Mandate to reaffirm its commitment to responsible water usage and stewardship, which are key components of its Sustainable Evolution strategy.

As for the overall industry, Chirico said it has evolved from public relations to true commitment to transparency over the last 15 years or so.

“This is an industry that has its challenges when it comes to factory compliance and human rights, and its been important to build that into our business strategy,” he said. “Once you do that…and commit to transparency, it gives you a catalyst to make changes.”

He said much of that is driven by people inside the company and it does become part of the corporate culture, of the core values of the company.

“Once you do that, then it becomes a matter of actions have to speak louder than just words,” he added.