From the TUC

What has the ETI ever done for us?

24 Aug 2011, By

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is an alliance of unions, companies and NGOs working to improve the labour rights of the 10 million workers in the global supply chains of ETI member companies. The TUC is a founding member, and I’ve just posted a blog on its website titled “What have the unions ever done for us?”-  outlining the case for working with unions. So it’s only fair that I turn the question around for this blog and ask “What has the ETI ever done for us”? Quite a lot is the answer.

As an ETI member, companies from major supermarkets to high street fashion retailers commit to requiring their suppliers to comply with the ETI Base Code, – a set of nine fundamental labour rights – and where suppliers fall short, to work with them to lift their game. The Base Code now covers some 30,000 worksites across the globe, particularly in food and garments, including in the UK.

The evidence of ETI’s impact suggests that it is making a difference on issues like child labour, pay, working hours and addressing the more visible health and safety issues like blocked fire exits. But like all codes, they can really only tackle tough issues like discrimination, a living wage and freedom of association if workers themselves are acting together to identify and resolve breaches of the code and holding companies to account. A workplace without a union to monitor and enforce a company code of conduct is like the proverbial tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it.

Critically for unions, the ETI Base Code requires that employers (at 2.2) adopt: “an open attitude towards the activities of trade unions and their organisational activities.” This is arguably a stronger requirement on employers than UK labour law.

And Unite have been using it successfully. They brought a complaint to ETI that Cranberry Foods, a supplier of many ETI member supermarkets, had employed the infamous union-busting firm, the Burke Group, to wreck a recognition vote. As Unite reports:

The ETI has made it clear to leading retailers, including Tesco, ASDA and the Co-op, it views Cranberry Foods’ use of the Burke Group during the CAC process as a breach of the Base Code.

This is a great precedent that could be used to try to flush out union-busting organisations whenever they lurk. More generally, if, in your industrial work, you come across a workplace covered by the ETI Base Code that it shutting out an organiser or refusing to negotiate, then consider using the leverage of ETI, and drop us a line.

For more information see the TUC’s trade union guide to ethical trade, or visit the Ethical Trading Initiative. To learn more or get involved in the ETI trade union caucus contact Annie Watson ([email protected]) the ETI trade union coordinator.