Engaging actors at every level to raise workers up

Many different actors can influence whether the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are respected and therefore the ability for impactful social dialogue to take place. The policies and practices of brands, agents, governments and even consumers play a role. That’s why at Fair Wear we believe that work needs to be done at all levels of the supply chain to create a positive environment for workers and their representatives to have meaningful discussions.

To do this, we start by making workers aware of what their rights are and the possibilities of social dialogue in the first place, because without this awareness, no conversation can occur. We aim to put workers at the centre of the conversation and solution. Through our complaints hotline, we also provide workers with a way to voice their complaints, even when they do not have a union or internal committee to turn to. This ‘safety net’ ensures that workers have somewhere to turn to for support, even before the social dialogue structures are in place.

We also help our member brands explore how they can change their purchasing practices and management decisions to make it easier for workers to stand up for their rights. This includes helping them identify how they can promote the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining in their supply chains, at both the factory and national levels. Fair Wear members should actively work with their suppliers to help implement these rights and support the development of the skills and structures needed for impactful social dialogue to take place. Fair Wear members shouldn’t, however, interfere directly with worker organisation.

Nevertheless, brands can play an important role in ensuring workers have information on their rights and that those who want to organise or join a union are not discriminated against or penalised. They can also support training for management and workers to communicate effectively, for example, through Fair Wear’s Workplace Education Programme Communication Module. This is important because when the voices of workers are backed up by the purchasing power of brands, we can get the ball rolling toward real change.

Lastly, we also share what we know from our work with member brands with stakeholders across the garment industry to test and develop models for social dialogue in the supply chain. All of these efforts are driven by our key belief that the best way to improve conditions for workers is by helping them raise their collective voices, organise, and take matters into their own hands.