What are the challenges to ensuring impactful social dialogue?

Before effective social dialogue can occur, some basic things need to be in place, specifically the right to ‘freedom of association and collective bargaining’ (meaning that workers have the right to form a union and negotiate with management and other key players).

At Fair Wear, this right is enshrined in our Code of Labour Practice Standard #4, and is guided by International Labour Organization standards. These rights need to be protected by governments and respected by all stakeholders. In reality there continue to be serious threats to workers and ongoing anti-union behaviour.

Although workers have a fundamental right to join and form trade unions and to negotiate with employers about working conditions, in reality both employers and governments often interfere with these rights. Common ways this is done is by victimising trade union officials, interfering with trade union activities, and using threats and other means to prevent genuine freedom of association in a workplace. The ITUC’s 2019 Global Rights Index noted that authorities tried to prevent registration of unions in 59% of countries, and that the number of countries that exclude workers from the right to establish or join trade unions increased from 92 in 2018 to 107 in 2019. Often, workers are dismissed if they are associated with a trade union.

Even when workers are not dismissed entirely, commons tactics that employers may use include threats to workers, transfers to different departments or production locations, violently approaching people, and even hiring industrial police and other aggressors to beat up protesting workers. For many workers, these potential threats stop them in engaging with or joining unions. Before truly impactful social dialogue can take place, these violations of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining must be addressed. At Fair Wear we work in various garment producing countries, partnering with local stakeholders such as trade unions, NGOs, and government to work towards increased respect for these rights.