Reflections on a Supplier Seminar at Coimbatore, India

STITCH envisages workplaces where workers feel free to speak out, unionise, and bargain collectively for better working conditions and sees social dialogue as the best way of achieving the goal. As part of our vision collective vision with STITICH, on 16 December 2022 in Coimbatore, India, Fair Wear brought together representatives of suppliers and brands to share and learn about social dialogue from a recently concluded collective bargaining agreement from that region. 

“An effective social dialogue will make a harmonious workplace, much to the relief of industry owners.” — Regional Coordinator for South Asia at Fair Wear

The first session of the seminar was on unpacking the concept of social dialogue. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) considers social dialogue as a valuable means of protecting and promoting the interests of workers by extending democracy and human dignity to the workplace1. Along with discussing the concept of social dialogue and the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders involved in the dialogue process and its different pathways, Fair Wear’s Regional Coordinator for South Asia categorically and persistently pointed out how social dialogue is not only important for the workers, but is beneficial for the business itself.  

As a STITCH partner, The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) presented a model showcasing the process of social dialogue taking examples from the Nalam programme of the Worker Peer Group of ETI that uses the ‘peer education’ model to improve female factory workers’ awareness of health and rights.

“In the time of need, the unions stood by our side and strongly vouch for the good practices Eastman continues to exercise.” — Senior Vice-President (Quality Assurance/CSR/Sustainable Textiles), Eastman Exports

The final session, facilitated by Fair Wear’s Regional Coordinator for South Asia, was an open discussion with Tamil Nadu Textile and Common Labour Union (TTCU) and Eastman Exports. In a very candid but impassioned discussion, the speakers talked about the landmark Dindigul Agreement, signed between Eastman Exports Global Clothing Private Limited and TTCU, along with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, Global Labour Justice and H&M Group. This agreement is having a very significant impact on the trade union movement of India, especially where independent trade unions continuously struggle to keep their voices heard and being considered without stigma.

“The brands make several times the profit that a supplier company does, so it is important that the supplier company should not be the only party to bear the responsibility of an incident.” — The State President, TTCU

As the programme approached its end, both speakers reminded the audience that many challenges can be overcome if management and the union begin to engage, with open minds, in constructive dialogues with one another.  

“It is time that the entire industry starts questioning the myths associated with trade unions, whether positive or negative, and explores the power of ‘dialogues’ to its fullest possibility.” — Fair Wear’s Country Manager for India

The audience participated in the Q&A session with great curiosity. Most questions were specific to how external parties, such as trade unions, can be involved to address the shortcomings of the industry — some even challenging trade union representatives on their relevantce.

The final message, though, was one of positive collaboration between supplier and trade union, with a promise for many future conversations on this very important issue. 

  1. ILO Social Dialogue