H&M has signed a Global Framework Agreement with IndustriAll Global Union and the Swedish metalworkers’ union IF Metall, covering 1,6 million textile workers.

Swedish multinational clothing giant H&M has signed an agreement promising better rights for 1,6 million garment workers in its supply chain. The deal covers workers employed in 1,900 factories in countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Turkey.

It includes the right to unionise, refuse to work in dangerous conditions and bargain collectively for better salaries.

IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina, one of the architects behind the groundbreaking Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh which was first signed by H&M, said:

“This agreement opens an exciting new chapter in the relationship between IndustriALL Global Union and H&M. It cements the path towards a sustainable garment industry with unionised workforce, constructive labour-management relations, living wages through industry level collective agreements, and safe workplaces.”

The agreement sets up national monitoring committees to safeguard the implementation of the agreement from the factory floor upwards, and to create dialogue between workers and employers at factory level.

The textile industry is notorious for low wages and unsafe conditions, as suppliers compete to produce clothing for major brands. This creates a global race to the bottom that mostly affects women, who make up two thirds of the workforce.

There have been a number of shocking industrial disasters of the past few years that highlight poor conditions in the supply chain. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh in 2013, killing more than 1,100 people, galvanised public opinion and gave unions the leverage they needed to take coordinated action against companies who had failed to take responsibility for their supply chain.

Lead by the global unions IndustriAll and UNI, the Bangladesh Accord was signed by 190 brands. The unions also sought – and won – compensation for the families of those killed in the disaster.

H&M and Inditex – the owners of Zara – have worked with global unions and the ILO to boost rights. IndustriAll has previously signed an agreement with Inditex, covering a million workers.

H&M acknowledges that monitoring the supply chain is difficult: “Achieving 100 percent compliance with all our requirements amongst all our suppliers is a challenge,” the company said in its 2014 Sustainability Report.

“Major challenges are health and safety, excessive overtime, wages, freedom of association and industrial relations.”

While international agreements are powerful statements of intent, they are only effective with strong monitoring at factory level to ensure compliance. The establishment of national monitoring committees is intended to support this, but ultimately the development of strong, independent trade unions in the textile industry is crucial to making a long term difference to workers’ conditions.

Despite agreements signed between unions and employers at international level, national governments – under pressure from local business owners – undermine union organising efforts.

Global Framework Agreements

Global Framework Agreements (GFAs) protect the interests of workers employed in all operations of the multinational companies who sign them.

GFAs are negotiated at the 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.

The GFA with H&M establishes that:

  • The parties will jointly promote signing of collective agreements both at factory, company and industrial level between relevant social partners
  • Workers have the right to refuse unsafe work as part of their health and safety rights
  • The parties will provide training for both management and union representatives on employers’ responsibilities, workers’ rights and obligations, industrial relations, collective bargaining agreements and peaceful conflict resolution
  • H&M will actively use all its possible leverage to ensure that its direct suppliers respect human and trade union rights in the workplace
  • Workers’ representatives are not discriminated against and have access to carry out their representative functions in the workplace

– You can download the framework agreement here.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.
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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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