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Southern African garment unions to collaborate on supply chains

12 June, 2017During a meeting on supply chains in Cape Town, IndustriALL affiliates in the textile, garment, shoes and leather sectors from Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland, agreed to campaign for better wages and working conditions, build union power, and confront aggressive employers.

Countries in Southern Africa are involved in all points of the supply chain in the garment sector: producing raw materials, garment  making and retail. For example, cotton lint was sourced from Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Garment factories and distribution and retail networks were found in most of the countries.

Recognizing the importance of the supply chain, the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland, the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) all representing over 110,000 workers agreed to fight for equal-pay-for-equal work across the national borders. This could be achieved by sharing collective bargaining agreements. Additionally, exchange programmes between unions allowed for learning from each other’s experiences.

South African brands that came under scrutiny included Edcon, Foschini, Mr Price, Truworths and Woolworths. These brands bought goods from factories that relocated production from South Africa to Lesotho and Swaziland, where wages are lower.

The factories also ignored bargaining rights, and freedom of association. Enforcement of labour laws was also weak in the two countries. When workers demanded better conditions, the employers threatened to close shop. But in South Africa, Sactwu organised the factories, watched errant factory owners and took action when workers’ rights were threatened.

The meeting adopted a plan based on ACT – the IndustriALL initiative with global brands for living wages in garment supply chains. It also drew from the Bangladesh Accord, setting health and safety standards for workers in factories.

It is important for unions to strengthen their power along the supply chain by working together in coalitions

said Paule-France N’dessomin from IndustriALL’s Sub Saharan regional office.

The meeting was supported by the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and was attended by 21 union leaders and shop stewards including ten women.