2 March, 2023 The OECD forum on due diligence in the garment and footwear sector, held in February in Paris, France, brought together governments, businesses, trade unions, civil society and academia to discuss the responsibilities of companies to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for their adverse human rights impacts.
In her opening remarks, Nazma Akter of IndustriALL affiliate Sommolito Sramik Federation in Bangladesh spoke about the need for systemic change in an industry where brands have the most power and workers the least.
“We made your clothes. We don’t want handouts; we want respect and dignity. Workers should not beg; we should be able to make a living. We respect the business world, but the business world should respect the workers.”
Trade unions have an important role to play in due diligence, as they need to be aware of workers’ rights. The Guidelines also recommend that for global brands and their suppliers to conduct due diligence, there must be meaningful two-way engagement that is conducted in good faith and is responsive. Workers also need to be provided with accurate and complete information and input before important decisions are made that affect them.
Many speakers urged the industry to abandon the failed approach of social auditing, where companies hire external, private parties to audit supplier factories. The challenge now is to move to a model based on human rights due diligence. IndustriALL called on brands and suppliers to collectively bargain to solve systemic problems in the global supply chain.
There was discussion on the difficulty of establishing processes for due diligence in countries that lack traditional social dialogue, a key tool for due diligence. Due diligence cannot take place without independent trade unions. This issue came to the fore on the last day of the forum in a session on due diligence in conflict-affected and high-risk contexts.
“Trade unions are at the centre of the struggle for democracy,”
Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL textile and garment director, raised the issues facing workers and unions in conflict zones.
“The issue is not whether a company stays or goes, but whether you can do due diligence in Myanmar. If a company’s code of conduct requires respect for freedom of association, then the conditions in the country must be seen as unacceptable.”
While productivity has increased, wages in the sector have stagnated. The minimum wage is not equal to a living wage, a recognised human right. Many countries in the textile and garment supply chain do not have a national or sectoral minimum wage, and even where there is a minimum wage, it is not always respected.
So what will it take to close the living wage gaps in garment supply chains? Some of the sessions touched on initiatives aimed at redressing imbalances and redistributing supply chain costs and profits more equitably. Brand-union co-operation through the ACT initiative specifically targets issues such as purchasing practices and living wages, and aims to achieve a living wage through sectoral collective bargaining.
On 14 February, IndustriALL hosted a side session at the forum on a new supply chain industrial relations model for the industry. The panel discussed how collaborative agreements between global brands and retailers and global unions contribute to a new model of supply chain industrial relations and how shared responsibility is needed to address shortcomings in global supply chains, such as living wages and social protection for garment workers.
Source: IndustiALL Global