Stronger unions are at the heart of improving global labour standards
Yesterday the AFL-CIO, our sister union confederation in the USA, released the report ‘Responsibility Outsourced’ which immediately made a splash online as it holds no punches criticising a number of American CSR initiatives. It argues, they are too reluctant to advocate for workers rights, failing to properly involve unions and not being transparent in their reporting processes. It concludes, quite rightly, that the only way to get better conditions in supply chain is through strong trade unions.
I was pleased to see that the report makes special note of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), of which the TUC is a founding member. ETI has trade unions represented at board level, along with NGOs and companies. The involvement of trade unions from the outset in ETI mean that its guiding principles – laid out in the ETI Base Code – include the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. By supporting freedom of association, ETI encourages structures where workers in factories can raise concerns with management to improve poor labour conditions. To quote ‘Responsibility Outsourced’:
‘…when workers have a voice at work, preferably a union, they can make sure dangerous conditions are improved by making employers and the state do their jobs.’
TUC Aid is currently supporting programme work by ETI to promote worker participation in factories in Vietnam. The TUC will work to make sure this worker involvement is genuine and has the support of local unions. Encouraging workers to get involved in collective bargaining is a far more effective way of identifying and dealing with problems in workplaces than using social audits, as many companies do. Audits can be poorly conducted and often do not pick up on poor worker rights, which can prove fatal– this was shockingly exposed last year in Pakistan, where fire claimed over 300 lives in a garment factory that had been given a clean social audit.
Improving labour standards in global supply chains will take significant work, however, ETI shows the gains for workers that can be made when trade unions are involved in MSIs. Hopefully ‘Responsibility Outsourced’ will encourage more corporations to do the responsible thing and support initiatives that genuinely involve unions to tackle the poor conditions too many working people face around the world.