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Empowering Bulgarian affiliates in the Inditex supply chain

3 July, 2017As part of the implementation process of the Inditex global framework agreement (GFA), IndustriALL Global Union’s textile and garment affiliates in Bulgaria met to review capacity building needs and develop organizing plans

During the meeting, held in the capital Sofia from 17-19 June 2017, IndustriALL’s affiliates, FOSIL and the Federation of Light Industry, and Inditex representatives discussed the situation in the textile and garment sector, and steps to promote implementation of the GFA in the Inditex supply chain in Bulgaria. 

Textile and garment is the biggest employer in Bulgarian manufacturing, employing some 100,000 workers, of whom roughly 9,000 work at Inditex’s suppliers. Union leaders reported sub-standard working conditions and low wages in the sector. “Workers earn the minimum wage, far less than a living wage and young people are not motivated to look for a job in that sector,” said one union leader. “They prefer to leave the country.”

Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL Global Union’s textile and garment director, gave a presentation on IndustriALL’s sectoral policy for supply chains and stated “There is no way to have a say in the wage debate without industry-wide bargaining. We want to promote a well-functioning industrial relations model in the supply chain, including here in Bulgaria.”

Bulgarian participants were introduced to the content of the GFA between IndustriALL and Inditex, and how its implementation can help improve social dialogue in the country.  Inditex representatives spoke about coordinated action with IndustriALL to promote respect for the agreement, in particular freedom of association.  “Our objective is to achieve sustainable working conditions and a win-win situation throughout the supply chain,” said Murat Akkün from Inditex Sustainability Department in Turkey. He further talked about the joint training project that IndustriALL and Inditex have developed for workers and managers at a supplier in Turkey, and stressed the benefit of freely elected trade union representatives and good social dialogue for ensuring company sustainability.    

There was a lively debate on the presentations given and actions taken in different countries to promote GFA implementation and resolve problems encountered. Víctor Garrido Sotomayor, IndustriALL’s coordinator of the Inditex GFA gave several examples of violation of workers’ rights and how those were solved successfully, particularly in Turkey where IndustriALL and Inditex conducted joint actions.  Union density in the Bulgarian textile industry is very low and workers are scared to join a union for fear of losing their livelihood. “What we saw and learnt from the presentations at the meeting gives us hope,” said a Bulgarian union leader. However, there is a strong need to empower workers and trade unions if a real change is to be seen in the textile and garment sector in Bulgaria.  

The meeting was followed by a visit to two Inditex suppliers - one located in Pleven and the other in Pernik. The visits gave union leaders an opportunity to meet with local management and workers directly on the shop-floor for the first time.  Affiliates expressed their determination to follow-up on the talks and together with IndustriALL’s support they are planning to engage with other Inditex suppliers in Bulgaria and initiate steps towards a sustainable industrial relations system in the sector.