12 November, 2019Representatives from 16 multinational companies and 14 trade unions from across the world met in Berlin on 8 November for IndustriALL Global Union’s conference on corporate social responsibility and labour relations.
Speaking at the opening, IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:
“We decided to hold this conference here in Berlin because Germany, which has the fourth largest economy in the world, is successful due to its system of codetermination and respect for labour relations. It stands as a model for all the other countries.”
Addressing the conference, Björn Böhning, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, said that strong social dialogue needs strong unions behind it, especially as the world faces new challenges from digitalization and climate change. He called for respect for international institutions to achieve progress.
The conference, which is the first of its kind, addressed major themes including constructive industrial relations, global framework agreements, and managing global supply chains.
Mirko Herberg, from German organization, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, which supported the conference, said:
“We want to look at workers not as cost factors but as citizens with inalienable human rights, and they have the right to enjoy those rights at work. Smart companies involve workers in decision-making, particularly when we look at the current challenges we have to face in terms of digital transformation.”
Representatives from companies Eni, H&M, Inditex, Renault, Solvay all took part in panel discussions which were streamed live on IndustriALL’s Facebook page.
Renault Group, which has 183,000 employees all over the world, entered into a global framework agreement with IndustriALL in 2013. Renault’s head of industrial relations, Miguel Valcarcel, said it was natural to enter into a GFA as the company became less European and French-centred:
“You realise local legislation, working conditions and social dialogue practices in other countries and regions are very different. The company needs a stable environment to do business…The GFA creates the conditions to share best practices. It gives the opportunity to anticipate when we have problems or conflicts when we have to intervene.”
However, Tracy Romero from UAW in North America, painted a different picture. She said anti-union avoidance firms that have been hired by companies such as Volkswagen and Nissan in the USA aggressively undermined their unionizing efforts which, combined with government interference, are undermining freedom of association, human rights and labour standards.
Elsewhere in the world, participants heard how GFAs with fashion brands, H&M and Inditex, are helping to improve freedom of association, unionization and labour rights in their supply chains.
Assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:
“This groundbreaking conference showed the benefit of constructive labour relations to the sustainability of companies, and as a means to improve working conditions and the fundamental rights of workers. We have deepened our mutual understanding and remain committed to social dialogue to improve the lives of workers.”