Putting the spotlight on wages and working hours in garment supply chains


At an ILO Global Dialogue Forum earlier this week, IndustriALL unions told governments and employers about the impact on garment workers of low wages and long working hours and propose solutions.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates from 22 countries made their case for higher wages and shorter working hours at the ILO Global Dialogue Forum on Wages and Working Hours in the Textile, Clothing, Leather and Footwear Industries (GDF) held in Geneva on 22-25 September.

The unions made impassioned interventions on the need to take workers out of poverty wages that compel them to do long overtime hours to make ends meet. They testified to how these harsh conditions impact the lives of the workers and their families. The meeting was attended by a large number of government representatives, showing that these issues are of considerable international concern. In particular, the German and Dutch governments called for respect of FoA and the right to collective bargaining to enable negotiations to take place to improve the overall working conditions of garment workers. However, the perspective of multinational buyers, which play such a strong role in determining working conditions in TCLF supply chains, was notably absent from the meeting.

At the end of three days of intense discussion, the tripartite body reached consensus on future actions.

For employers and unions they include:

  • To engage in effective social dialogue
  • To promote sourcing and subcontracting practices that enhance compliance

This has to be supported by the ILO office through:

  • Capacity building to enhance social dialogue
  • The continued promotion of the ratification and effective implementation of international labour standards

Governments are called upon:

  • To promote improved working conditions in the TCLF sector by enforcing labour legislation and effective protection of workers’ rights
  • To ensure workplace compliance
  • To only procure from compliant TCFL factories
  • To respect, promote and realize fundamental rights and principles at work.

The meeting served to highlight once again the desperate situation of workers in these industries. But to bring about sustainable change global brands must be part of the conversation. IndustriALL will continue to reach out to brands and strengthen its action around supply chains to this end.

Directly prior to the GDF, the trade union leaders met to share experiences and devise strategies to improve workers’ conditions in supply chains.

Worldwide, the industry is plagued with the difficulty of organizing workers into trade unions, low wages and long working hours. Unions talked about how to use international instruments such as GFAs, codes of conduct, multibrands agreement and multistakeholder platforms and challenged their limitations.

The role of unions in the home countries of multinationals was also discussed in terms of how they can work hand in hand with local unions to improve working conditions. Unions from Spain, Sweden and the USA informed about their respective efforts to reach their national brands to put pressure on their suppliers while unions from production countries discussed the challenges of organizing, increasing wages and reducing working hours.