If you listened to the podcast series, you have heard about how important it is for garment workers to have a voice at work.
Through trade unions and collective bargaining, workers can negotiate with their employers and governments for wages that will support themselves and their families. They can also address issues related to working conditions such as long hours, discrimination, and health and safety.
What you can do
One of the most powerful things that you can do is make clear to brands that it is important to you that workers in their supply chain have trade union representation and real bargaining power.
Have your say!
You can make your voice heard by contacting your favourite brands using the letter below.
Here’s how to do it
Just pick the brand you want to contact, fill out your name and email address, and press send. Easy as that! It will send an email straight to the inbox of your selected brand. You can fill this letter out multiple times and send to as many different brands as you like.
What is collective bargaining?
It is a process of negotiation between employers and an organised body of employees (e.g. a trade union) in regards to wages and other conditions of employment such as working conditions, benefits, and other aspects of workers’ compensation and rights.
What does an independent democratic trade union do?
Trade unions are membership-based organisations of workers that represent and negotiate on behalf of working people. They give advice when their members have problems at work, help improve wages and working conditions by negotiating with employers and governments, and make sure that their members’ legal rights are enforced.
Trade unions provide a mechanism for dialogue between workers and employers and ensure that problems can be identified and resolved quickly and fairly. Read more here.
It is important for trade unions to be independent and their leaders democratically elected so that workers’ interests are represented properly.
Where would I look to find out if brands disclose how many workers in their supply chain are part of trade unions or covered by collective bargaining agreements?
Most brands don’t disclose this information yet, but they should. Even if they do, it’s not typically easy to find. You might have to do some sleuthing through the company’s website or maybe even look beyond their website. For example, Inditex Group discloses that its agreement with IndustriALL Global Union covers at least 1 million workers in around 6,000 factories making clothes for its 8 different brands including Zara, Pull&Bear and Massimo Dutti. H&M’s Global Framework Agreement covers 1.6 million workers in over 1,900 factories around the world.
H&M, Inditex and Tchibo are the only fashion companies who currently have signed Global Framework Agreements with IndustriALL Global Union, with the aim to help protect the interests of workers across the multinational company’s operations. Read more here. This is a important step in ensuring workers are able to bargain collectively on wages and conditions but it’s not a guarantee that workers are paid fairly and treated well. These agreements do not necessarily mean that workers in factories supplying the brands are unionised or exercising their own agency and rights to collective bargaining.
How many workers should I expect to be part of trade unions or collective bargaining agreements?
Again, most brands will not yet be disclosing this information but the hope is that 100% of the garment workers in a brand’s supply chain are able to freely join trade unions or are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. But if brands disclose any number or percentage of workers that are part of trade unions or covered by collective bargaining agreements, this is a good start.
Why is disclosing the number or percentage of workers in trade unions or part of collective bargaining agreements useful?
Many brands say that workers in their supply chains should be guaranteed the right to form and join trade unions and bargain collectively. It is often part of their Supplier Code of Conduct. But having a policy doesn’t mean it’s enforced. Disclosing exactly how many workers in their supply chain are unionised or covered by collective bargaining agreements demonstrates that brands are ensuring their policies on unionisation are being put into practice. When brands and retailers have direct working relationships with unions they can learn better about what is going on in their supplier factories and how they can improve conditions for the workers that make their clothes.
Should I expect a reply from brands?
Possibly! Brands might respond directly to your email, or they may put out a press release if they get enough customers who send them this letter. However, brands may not respond at all, or their response might be very vague and not all that helpful. Don’t be discouraged! Your questions are still being heard and probably discussed by the brands and retailers internally.
Check out the Fact File to learn more about some of the statistics and terminology you have heard throughout the podcast.
Explore the findings from the Garment Worker Diaries research project in Cambodia, here.