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Legal enforceability necessary for sound industrial relations

1 March, 2024The OECD forum on due diligence in the garment and footwear sector on 21-22 February in Paris, brought together governments, businesses, unions, civil society, and academia to discuss challenges and risks, as well as learnings and solutions related to responsibly implementing due diligence in the global garment and footwear supply chains. 

IndustriALL and many of its TGSL affiliates were in attendance and brought a strong voice to the importance of binding agreements as a tool to move beyond company self-regulation of global supply chains.  Voluntary social auditing has shown to be a failure, in terms of both protecting workers’ rights and reducing risk to multinational buyer brands and their investors.

In the opening session of the forum, entitled binding company-union agreements and its role in due diligence, IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie stressed that binding agreements play an essential role in industrial relations: 

“If we don’t have legal enforceability, there are no industrial relations. Without these agreements workers and employers will be on different planets. Employers hold all the economic powers, and they will use it if they are not held to checks. Without legal regulation and binding agreements, workers would still be slaves.” 

The panel addressed how binding agreements can be important tools for due diligence and how it promotes pro-worker codes and freedom of association and that it is essential to have supportive governments and responsible brands.

“IndustriALL has been able to bring brands to the table and sign agreements, some of which are legally binding. The Bangladesh Accord, now called the International Accord for health and safety in the textile and garment sector, has changed the fate of workers. The agreement has allowed for clean up in the clothing and textile industry in Bangladesh compared to what it was before the collapse of Rana Plaza,” 

said Atle Høie. 

It is essential that more brands sign these agreements, the more brands are on board the more enforceable they are. The more countries are part of the Accord, the more countries unions can clean up. These agreements will always be necessary to ensure workers receive the best. 

Global framework agreements were highlighted as a tool to better conditions for workers along the supply chains. To date, IndustriALL has signed six binding agreements with global brands and retailers and in the upcoming of renegotiation of these agreements, pressure will be put on multinationals to include a dispute resolution mechanism that includes binding arbitration.  
An OECD industrial relations roundtable brought together enterprises (brands, manufacturers) and trade unions representing workers across garment and footwear supply chains to explore the importance of active engagement with trade unions. Setting up a structure between, trade unions, brands, and manufacturers, having regular meetings, possibly in production countries, and the publication of the guidance document in multiple languages were some of the main topics discussed at the roundtable. Moving forward the OCED will investigate these items and revert to participants. 

A side session on responsible supply chains in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Turkey focused on the launch of the OECD’s garment and footwear sector capacity building. This three-year programme was launched in Decemeber 2023, focusing on how governments can build an enabling policy environment for responsible business conduct (RBC), strengthen national contact points (NCP) for RBC and increase business understanding and capacity to implement due diligence.

IndustriALL’s MENA regional secretary, Ahmed Kamel, participated in this panel:

“Together with our MENA affiliates we started with the NCP, with brands and suppliers to use the international tools to enforce social dialogue, at a company level, supply chain level and the industry level. We are trying to put new tools in the regions, like GFA’s, the Accord and ACT agreements so that the region can use these and implement. Stakeholders’ commitment is key to move forward.”

Major take aways from the forum include having a more comprehensive approach to due diligence that will have legal and non-legal aspects, more direct support for vulnerable groups which include groups affected by climate change and low socio-economic workers and addressing industry imbalances by acknowledging the existing disparities within the fashion industry, participants emphasized the need to level the playing field to ensure fairness and equity across the board.