A group of South African garment unions has joined forces to campaign for better wages and working conditions, build union power, and confront aggressive employers.

IndustriAll affiliates from the textile, garment, shoe and leather sectors in Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland gathered together in Cape Town yesterday (12 June), where they agreed the fight for equal-pay-for-equal work across the national borders could be achieved by sharing collective bargaining agreements, in addition to exchange programmes between unions for the benefit of learning from each other's experiences..

Comprising the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland, the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu), they collectively represent over 110,000 workers.

South African brands under scrutiny include Edcon, Foschini, Mr Price, Truworths and Woolworths, which the unions say have bought goods from factories that relocated production from South Africa to Lesotho and Swaziland, where wages are lower. The unions say factories also ignored bargaining rights and freedom of association, with enforcement of labour laws also weak in the two countries.

Countries in Southern Africa are involved in all points of the supply chain in the garment sector from producing raw materials and garment making to retail. Cotton lint, for example, is sourced from Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The meeting adopted a plan based on ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), the IndustriAll initiative with global brands to pay living wages in garment supply chains. It also drew from the Bangladesh Accord, setting health and safety standards for workers in factories.

"It is important for unions to strengthen their power along the supply chain by working together in coalitions," said Paule-France N'dessomin from IndustriAll's sub-Saharan regional office.