Sixty-five representatives from IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in the textile, garment, shoes and leather industries (TGSL) gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 1 July for the IndustriALL Asia-Pacific regional sector conference.
Unions tackled issues such as protecting workers’ rights in the supply chain, developing women leaders within unions, youth and effective implementation of global framework agreements with H&M, Inditex, Tchibo and ASOS.
Participants also looked at ways of taking advantage of international instruments such as the ACT initiative on living wages, the Bangladesh Accord, ILO complaint mechanisms, as well as OECD due diligence guidelines.
Akiko Gono, IndustriALL Co-Chair of the TGSL sector, said:
“Workers in the TGSL sector face many challenges. Millions of women workers face harsh working conditions and receive low wages. Companies that won’t pay appropriate wages to workers, don’t have the right to exist. Unions must also prepare themselves to face the challenges emerging from technological transformation in the form of Industry 4.0.”
Athit Kong, IndustriALL Co-Chair of TGSL sector, said:
“We have very important global instruments including GFAs, the Accord in Bangladesh and the ACT initiative which can be used to improve workers’ lives. However, we are facing major challenges in implementing these instruments at the national level. We need to work more to build union power on the ground and find ways to effectively implement international instruments to bring change for workers.”
Jenny Holdcroft, IndustriALL’s Assistant General Secretary, provided an overview of IndustriALL’s initiative in building global instruments to defend workers’ rights and said:
“ACCORD and ACT are setting new standards in global supply chains. The settlement of two cases filed against global brands at PCA in the Hague is a historic victory for trade union movement. Legally-binding agreements can hold multinational companies to account. IndustriALL’s global agreement ACT will facilitate industry-wide collective bargaining and link multinational companies’ purchasing practices to supply chain workers’ pay and working conditions. Importantly, it will promote freedom of association and ensure the protection of more workers.
“We made significant progress, but it is important that we need to address massive challenges in implementing these tools. We need to strengthen our union structures and develop capacity to effectively use these international instruments. We need to eliminate competition among unions and build unity. We need to reduce the gap between plant level unions and leadership and bring more women and youth into the union fold.”
The conference included a presentation from an H&M representative on sustainability and stakeholder engagement, while other GFA brands Inditex and Tchibo gave presentations underlining their commitment to work with unions and improve industrial relations in the global supply chain.
IndustriALL South Asia and South East Asia regional representatives and affiliates from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar and Philippines presented on the situation of women workers in their respective countries and various actions taken by unions to improve wages, social security, working conditions and women’s representation in unions.
The conference also explored challenges faced by young workers. Young unionists called for more efforts to address issues affecting them, such as precarious work, low wages, lack of understanding and negative information among youth about unions, long working hours, lack of opportunity for youth in union structures and lifestyle issues.
Youth representatives also called for innovative youth education and empowerment strategies, effective use of social media to create awareness of union participation, and organizing sports and cultural events to enhance youth participation.
IndustriALL’s General Secretary, Valter Sanches, who attended the conference, said:
“It is our duty to ensure that workers’ rights are protected and they receive due wages. We are facing formidable challenges posed by the pro-business approaches of the governments in the Asia-Pacific region. They seem to believe that the only way to generate employment is to offer cheap labour and create special economic zones bereft of labour rights. Every day workers’ rights are trampled on and workers are being sacked and persecuted. Governments are afraid of the brands’ economic clout and predatory sourcing practices. We need to strategically use international instruments including IndustriALL’s GFAs and ACT initiative to strengthen unions and stand up to these challenges.”