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Textile and garment unions in South East Asia build networks

15 July, 2019Trade union leaders from IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in seven countries in South East Asia resolved to build networks and increase organizing in the textile and garment sector despite threats and harassment.

Sixty trade unionists from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam gathered in Yangon, Myanmar, on 4 and 5 July for IndustriALL’s regional textile, garment, shoes and leather (TGSL) meeting on organizing in supply chains.

Cambodian affiliates condemned the dirty tactics used by Cambodian employers to thwart unions’ effort in organizing supply chains, including termination of union leaders.

Nenden Hirawati from National Industrial Workers Union Federation (SPN) said Indonesian employers were equally hostile to trade unions. She added that employers often hire thugs to intimidate unions’ organizing efforts and workers were fearful that factories would be shut down and relocated to other regions.

Nonetheless, affiliates also highlighted their successes in building worker power in the supply chain.

Unionists shared a variety of organizing strategies to overcome obstacles, including direct negotiation with employers, mediation with the assistance of global brands, and the use of ILO conventions.

“Outsourcing is a common phenomenon in the TGSL sector, that’s why IndustriALL has four key strategies to build industrial relations in the supply chain. We need to create networks amongst our affiliates that support organizing in the sector,” said Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL’s director for the textile and garment industry.

She gave a briefing on how IndustriALL’s affiliates could be active in holding brands accountable for the business practices through the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector. Trade unions should also use global framework agreements to establish relationships with brands and resolve disputes within supplier companies.

Another key strategy to building union power across the supply chain is the creation of trade union networks. The meeting also hosted the first South East Asia network gathering for the Coats and Birla networks. Further steps will now be taken to expand these networks regionally and globally.

“Currently, IndustriALL has 10 union network meetings in the region every year and we have many successful stories. In solidarity with their counterparts in other countries, our regional affiliates shared useful information about multinational companies, such as wage structure, health and safety issues, and direct dialogue strategy with employers,” said IndustriALL’s South East Asia regional secretary, Annie Adviento.   

The meeting also included a presentation on how to use Fashion Revolution, a movement to improve sustainability and working conditions in the garment sector, to increase union visibility in global supply chains.

Photo: Trade union leaders at the regional meeting take action using Fashion Revolution's #Imadeyourclothes tagline.