Inditex, H&M and ASOS have committed to continuing their work on building collective bargaining for garment and footwear workers in Southeast Europe as part of the global framework agreement (GFA).

At a meeting in Istanbul last week, the GFA partners pledged to continue with IndustriAll Global Union and IndustriAll Europe on building collective bargaining and better conditions for over 600,000 garment and footwear workers.

Designed to protect the interests of workers employed in all operations of the multinational companies who sign them, GFAs are negotiated at a global level between trade unions and companies. They establish the best possible standards on trade union rights, on health and safety, and on the labour relations principles adhered to by the company in its global operations, regardless of the standards existing in a particular country.

A year ago the European Commission decided to support a two-year IndustriAll Europe project in 2018-19 under the title ‘Strengthening the capacity of trade unions in South-East Europe to improve wages and working conditions in the garment and footwear sectors’. The project targets six countries in the region: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.

A mapping carried out as the first phase of the project earlier this year revealed that there are more than 600,000 garment and footwear workers in South-East Europe. Their unionisation levels are as low as 3-4%, there are few collective agreements, and workers’ salaries in some countries are around 200 euros per month, or only half of those for garment workers in China.

IndustriAll Europe and IndustriAll Global Union agreed to work closely together to address the problems and focus on achieving four results in the years to come: growth of union membership; an increase in collective agreements (CBAs) at company level; rebuilding industry-level collective bargaining; and developing paths towards living wages.

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At the meeting, the three brands confirmed their support for freedom of association and collective bargaining in South-East Europe, seeing it as part of their strategic cooperation with the global and European unions. Western European trade unions have committed to helping on contacts with other leading brands in Italy, Germany and other countries.

“We are looking for win-win solutions for the workers with good conditions, companies with sustainable business, and governments in the form of economic growth and more equal societies,” says Luc Triangle, general secretary of IndustriAll Europe. “South-East European countries need to create domestic demand through the payment of living wages.”

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriAll Global Union, adds: “We see this project and cooperation with the key brands as part of our global broader strategy to profoundly change the garment and footwear industry and make it sustainable worldwide. Global framework agreements and the ACT living wage initiative are essential tools in this process.”

IndustriAll Global Union has signed GFAs with six garment and footwear brands, Inditex, H&M, Asos, Tchibo, Esprit and Mizuno, covering millions of workers throughout the supply chains. ACT is an expanding, ground-breaking agreement to achieve living wages for workers through industry-wide collective bargaining linked to the brands’ purchasing practices and freedom of association.

The project will now continue with six national seminars, with focus on capacity building, putting together action plans in each country, and interaction with other stakeholders such as employer associations and governments.