Akzo Nobel union network breaks barriers to organizing in Colombia


The network of Akzo Nobel trade unions in Latin America is using its strong influence to insist that workers in the company’s Colombian factory have the right to organize a union.

The network, which is a standard setter, meets annually and communicates regularly. The last meeting of the network included IndustriALL and unions from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia, and included a social dialogue session with senior Akzo Nobel management at the Mauá, São Paulo factory. While the network highlighted issues in each country, a key priority was set to ensure that workers in Colombia can freely organize and join the network.

As a result of this demand, the Akzo Nobel Human Resources Director for Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Peru, Carlos Toro, met the network coordinators, IndustriALL Global Union, and Colombian union USTI on 19 July 2016, in Medellin, Colombia.

In the constructive meeting, Carlos Toro told the union delegation that the management’s door is always open to workers’ complaints, that workers responded positively to a recent job satisfaction survey, and that there exists a procedure inside the factory whereby a rotating worker representative position can speak to management about employment issues.

The company message was “why should foreigners come to our factory and form a union when our workers don’t want one”. To which the union response was that they simply demand that workers inside the factory have the freedom to choose whether or not they wish to form a union, in line with the company’s code of conduct.

The representative of IndustriALL affiliate USTI informed Dr Toro that Akzo Nobel workers in the Colombian factory say that they fear the management’s reaction to union organizing but that a union is needed.

Sergio Carasso, coordinator of the network explained the union proposal, to conduct a first meeting inside the factory with IndustriALL, USTI and the factory management. The next step would then be to meet workers and make it clear that there will be no management reprisals to union organizing. Dr Toro agreed to respond within 45 days to the proposal.

Tom Grinter, research and industry officer at IndustriALL, said:  

“The opportunity to start the process of organizing Akzo Nobel workers in Colombia is down to the strength of our Brazilian affiliate, and to years of good work by the regional network. We are determined to hold Akzo Nobel to its own code of conduct and provide the space for organizing free from threats or reprisal inside the factory."