STEP 5 of the implementation road map considers how to act, embed and report on freedom of association, collective bargaining and worker representation.
This resource provides an objective insight into the relevant standards available, but does not seek to advise on which standard could best support your worker representation journey.
The ETI base code, built on the universal language and expectations of core labour standards laid out in ILO conventions and recommendations is consistent throughout all main codes, principles, frameworks and management systems, as well as globally recognised standards. This then defines a set of freedom of association, collective bargaining and worker representation indicators – these include:
- ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work can be woven into your policies, strategies, practices and codes of conduct.
- The scope and scale of instruments (tools) available to help businesses to manage labour rights performance in the supply chain is harmonised and evidence against set indicators may be used in many reporting frameworks.
Freedom of association sits at the heart of effective and mature industrial relations.
Freedom of association (FOA)
ETI recommends managing your commitment to support and promote workers’ rights to FOA and CB through global management standards, codes of practice, principles, key performance indicators and recognised frameworks. We also suggest using social audit reports to assess and measure the progress of on-the-ground efforts. FOA is widely supported in almost all standards concerned with human rights at work.
FOA is a complex yet fundamental concept, as it paves the way for workers to access other important workplace rights. In particular, it unlocks the door to collective bargaining and other effective mechanisms for worker representation. It involves raising awareness among workers of their rights, enables them to voice their concerns, and determines how disputes and grievances are handled in the workplace.
More than 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries that have ratified neither ILO Convention No. 87 on freedom of association nor Convention No. 98 on collective bargaining; and in many countries that have ratified them violations of these rights persist in law and practice.
Integrated Strategy on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2017-2023 report
Through your due diligence mapping, ensure that you understand whether workers can freely associate which means they can form or join a trade union of their choice. This is a critical factor in assessing the level of human rights risk facing workers in your supply chain, particularly in sourcing countries where worker representation and trade union activity are suppressed, and where the legal framework underpinning protection of worker rights is weak or unenforced.
Strategic approach to progressing worker representation
Independently elected worker representatives are the measure of how freely workers can express and contribute to their industry or workplace through formal structures such as collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).
The ETI recommendation, covered in detail in Progressing worker representation, outlines a mapping approach guided by three entry points, namely where:
- Workers cannot voice their concerns freely and there is no worker representation
- Workers have some recourse to negotiating with employers, e.g. through worker committees
- Workers’ needs are represented by trade unions or democratically elected representatives.
Findings from a mapping exercise then forms the basis of activity and investment in progressing worker representation to enable mature industrial relations. It is also the first step in gathering company knowledge and evidence of best practice.
From project to practice
Mature industrial relations on a site with fully engaged workers and managers is good for business and contributes to the long-term sustainability and stability of the business. Actions that can be taken can could:
- Reviewing project work to evaluate whether it is directly or indirectly pertinent to your supply chain and addresses salient issues and risks to workers you have identified through your due diligence process.
- Identify and invest in partnerships with in-country expertise and experience. The workplace or sector trade union, national or global federation/s are key to success. Included in this could be a range of trade union, legal and cultural partnerships.
- Provide for the independent capacity building of independent worker representatives or trade union representatives through, for example, skills development, in order to enable a level playing field for dialogue or consultation.
- Commit to facilitate initial discussions (with suppliers) establishing ground rules to identify who should be involved and who is paying for the facilitation and training, and to promote the election of independent worker representatives.
- Invest in supplier key performance indicators (KPIs) that include worker representatives or their trade union and foster a mindset of continuous improvement.
Action on FOA - country collaboration
Previous STEPS in this suite of resources on base code clause two focuses on sites and workplaces in your supply chain. It is however important to recognise that acting on FOA and workers’ rights at a country level needs a collaborative and collective approach to bring about change.
The international labour standards (ILS) are either conventions, which are legally binding international treaties when ratified by a country, or they are recommendations serving as non-binding guidelines. The eight core standards are conventions, therefore, to implement or raise a standard in a country needs corporate collaboration, advocacy and activity. This could include global and trade unions, industry bodies, international, local and/or sector labour and human right organisations and NGOs. Examples of this activity include:
- ETI working group (Italy)
- Collaborative working with trade unions, industry bodies and NGO on advocacy with the state to rewrite and improve regulation on migrant workers.
- FOA protocol (Indonesia)
- A historic agreement signed in 2011 regarding trade union rights in factories in Indonesia. The pact was signed by Indonesian textile, clothing and footwear unions, major supplier factories and the major sportswear brands, including Adidas, Nike and Puma.
- ACT (Action, Collaboration and Transformation)
- Addressing the structural barriers to living wages, ACT is an agreement between global brands and retailers and trade unions to transform garment, textile and footwear industry and achieve living wages for workers through collective bargaining at industry level linked to purchasing practices.
In the base code clause two suite of resources we provide guidance on reviewing and refining policy and developing a communication strategy. Both are part of embedding FOA, CB and worker representation in the company.
Buying responsibly: harmonising vision and commitment
In many organisations the challenge would be harmonisation between CSR, ethical or sustainability practitioners and commercial practices and drivers. Raising awareness and sharing of critical information from a due diligence mapping of FOA (assessing where FOA is established or not) to ensure commercial interests don’t undermine activity in support of workers’ rights and protections.
ETI’s guide to buying responsibility draws on the findings of a collaborative supplier survey run in partnership between the joint ethical trading initiatives and the ILO, with support from SEDEX. The guide includes best practice examples and outlines the five key business practices that influence wages and working conditions.
Reporting on FOA, CB and worker representation
Reporting on international labour standards is consistent through most known management standards, principles or reporting frameworks.
A set of internal information or data on FOA, CB and worker representation can be used in multiple ways.