A meeting led by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Sofia, Bulgaria, has underlined the importance of freedom of association and workplace cooperation in global supply chains, as well as emphasising the benefits of genuine social dialogue and the implementation of Global Framework Agreements (GFAs) in the country's garment sector.

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.

Co-sponsored by Spanish clothing giant Inditex, the event - Key Features of Social Dialogue and Cooperation at the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities, Good Practices, and Benefits - was held on 30 March and attended by other GFA partners H&M and Asos, together with their main suppliers in Bulgaria. Meanwhile, the IndustriAll global union and its Bulgarian affiliates, FOSIL/CITUB and the Federation of Light Industry/Podkrepa, brought a labour view to discussions. 

During the meeting, the ILO explained how international legal frameworks regulate rights and responsibilities at the workplace and their application in global supply chains. Freedom of association, collective bargaining and the benefits of sectoral level bargaining were also highlighted, while the ILO's Better Work programme was presented as a way to promote responsible workplace practices for both workers and companies. 

In addition, representatives from Inditex, H&M, and Zara – which each have GFAs with IndustriAll – explained how GFAs are an essential part of their core business model. The brands reiterated their pledge to respect ILO core labour standards and expressed their determination to work with suppliers and unions' representatives to ensure effective GFA implementation and achieve decent work in the Bulgarian textile and garment sector.    

IndustriAll's Bulgarian affiliates expressed their desire that their government develop an effective strategy for the garment sector, promoting investment and employing more workers. According to the Bulgarian unions, in the absence of an employers' association, collective bargaining, if any takes place at the plant level.

The Bulgarian garment industry is characterised by poor working conditions, very low wages (the legal minimum wage is currently at US$322 a month) and lack of prospects, making the industry unattractive to young people, says IndustriAll.

"The GFAs give us value and leverage with a clear perspective on how to conduct successful dialogue between social partners and how to solve problems together," said FOSIL and CITUB in a statement. "The only way forward for us here in Bulgaria is effective and meaningful industrial relations with a mechanism where decisions are taken jointly for the benefit of workers and enterprises the textile and garment sector."

Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriAll's director for textile, garment, leather and shoe industries, added: "The GFAs are important tools that IndustriAll has been developing for quite a long time. GFAs are playing a key role in different parts of the world, and now in Bulgaria. Our objective is to give our utmost support to our Bulgarian affiliates as part of the strategic goals of our global union."

Last year, CEO of Inditex, Pablo Isla, said the Spanish clothing giant's GFA, which acts to protect some 1.5m garment workers, is one of the most effective tools for enforcing and encouraging labour rights in the industry's global supply.

Inditex GFA one of the best tools to enforce labour rights