Fair Wear's approach to social dialogue

Recently, Fair Wear has been investing in more research, projects, and collaboration to strengthen the work we do to promote a more enabling environment for social dialogue in garment supply chains. Through this work we have refined our approach and are building the tools and resources to better support our members in their work on this essential topic. ‘Understanding Fair Wear’s Approach to Social Dialogue’  clearly lays out how we will continue our efforts and what members and stakeholders can expect from us in the coming months.

Workers are best placed to advocate for their own rights. In order to do this, they need the freedom to organise themselves, express their voices, and defend their interests. This is where freedom of association and collective bargaining come in. These rights are ‘enabling rights.’ That is to say, if these rights are respected, they pave the way for garment workers and their employers to address and implement the other standards in Fair Wear’s Code of Labour practices – often without brand intervention. Not only that, but they are key rights that facilitate ownership and give the possibility to workers to express their voices and be heard.

Efforts to implement these rights therefore need to cut across all of Fair Wear’s workplace standards. Yet these rights have proven challenging to implement. Workers’ ability to organise and bargain collectively depends on local and global factors that often are beyond the influence of any single brand or rights initiative. There are also legal and practical barriers to these rights. Actors at various levels of the supply chain misunderstand or are unaware of what social dialogue is in practice, resist changes to the power imbalances that are supported by suppression of these enabling rights, and/or may even create obstacles for social dialogue through their own practices. In the face of such obstacles, Fair Wear and various workers’ rights initiatives have made fairly limited progress on these fundamental rights. With a new approach to social dialogue, Fair Wear seeks to redress this reality. Building on its work with strategic partners, CNV, FNV, and the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and together with stakeholders, Fair Wear seeks to keep social dialogue at the centre of everything Fair Wear does.  The process of shifting to this approach will evolve over the coming year. For now, this document explains steps that Fair Wear is taking now in order to: a) participate in broader efforts to develop systems for worker organising and negotiation that meet 21st century realities; and b) lay a clear and practical path for member brands and their suppliers – and most importantly the workers who make members’ products – to more effectively realise workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining.