The rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are among the fundamental rights and international labour standards, the so-called ILO core labour standards. They are anchored in Conventions No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention and No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention.
The right to freedom of association provides that workers shall have the freedom to organise and to carry out their activities freely and without restriction or interference. Workers have the right to join and actively participate in trade unions. At the same time, there is protection against any measures directed against this activity.
Collective bargaining are negotiations between the employer (or an employers' association) and one or more trade unions. The aim of collective bargaining is to reach a collective agreement on wages and working conditions. Because they are legally binding, they carry much more weight than other agreements between employers and workers.
The rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are an essential lever to achieve and maintain good working conditions. Trade unions actively campaign for better working conditions and higher wages. For workers, they are an important means of enforcing their rights.
Both rights are fundamental rights and at the same time enabling rights: if they are respected, this contributes significantly to the fulfilment of other labour rights. However, in most manu-facturing countries in the textile industry, these rights are restricted and violated, so that work-ers are not able to negotiate wages, workplace safety, working hours or other relevant issues. Workers who join a union are often intimidated, transferred or even dismissed by their em-ployers. In many countries, state actors also hinder the work of trade unions by delaying their registration or targeting individual representatives. China, India, Thailand and Vietnam have not ratified one or more of the ILO Conventions.
In 2017, for example, textile workers in Bangladesh protested for higher minimum wages. As a result, at least 1,500 workers were dismissed and the government cracked down on unions, closing their offices and imprisoning officials.
The Textiles Partnership has formulated social goals that all members recognize by joining the Partnership. These goals are based on international social standards, in particular the ILO Conventions, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. With regard to freedom of association and collective bargaining, the Partnership goals are as follows:
Freedom of association and collective bargaining are among the eleven sector risks ad-dressed by the Partnership companies in the review process. Unlike other risks, restrictions on the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining are not linked to specific pro-duction stages or product groups. Rather, the country-specific framework conditions and their implementation in the individual production companies are decisive. The risk analysis there-fore starts with the countries. Based on this, companies define goals and measures to address their most serious risks. These can be, for example, training or further measures to support the work of trade unions in the production countries.
The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles cooperates among others with the initiative Action, Collaboration, Transformation (ACT). Together with the global umbrella union IndustriALL, ACT campaigns for collective bargaining in production countries. Especially in countries where the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is restricted by law, the organisations strive to enforce and protect workers' rights.
Further information and tools:
Common Objective: The Issues: Freedom of Association & Right to Collective Bargaining (2018).
Fair Wear Foundation: Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
ITUC: Global Rights Index 2021 (2021).
OECD: OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector Module 6 about Trade unions and collective bargaining.
SÜDWIND e.V. – Institut für Ökonomie und Ökumene: SÜDWIND e.V.: Between Rights and Reality – Freedom of Collective Bargaining (only available in German) (2017).