Alliance between Consumers and Trade Unions
(First published in Norwegian 14 June 2007)
By Pia Gaarder
Athit Kong is vice-president in the umbrella organization Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), which unifies 26,000 apparel workers in Cambodia. He was in Norway for a few hours during the launching of the campaign Clean Clothes, which is collaborative project between The Future in Our Hands, Changemaker, and the Norwegian Confederation of Unions.
The campaign aims to improve the working conditions in factories in developing countries where apparel and shoes are produced. It is precisely this alliance with workers at factories in developing countries that is important in the Clean Clothes method. All initiatives are coordinated with them, and Clean Clothes Campaign neither presents information nor initiates protests before the workers themselves request that this be done.
The campaign’s most important demands are the freedom to unionize and the right to collective wage negotiations, wages high enough to live on, shorter working hours, no to child labour, and better health, environment and security.
Norway is the twelfth country to join the international campaign Clean Clothes Campaign.
Change in Structure
“When the Clean Clothes campaign started 20 years ago, the apparel companies scarcely knew where the clothing they sold was produced, and they would not take any responsibility. Today, when we apply to the companies about the infringements that occur in the factories that produce clothing for them, they have to do something about it. But our goal is to accomplish structural changes that prevent the occurrence of such infringements, not just that something is done afterwards when it is discovered”, Marieke Eyskoot, campaign coordinator at Clean Clothes Campaign’s headquarters in Amsterdam, said at the press conference in Oslo on 14 June.
It is no coincidence that it was a union representative from a country like Cambodia who was present at the launching. The unionization of workers in developing countries is constantly more emphasized as the key to improving the working conditions of the world’s 120 million textile workers.
But the free trade unions in Cambodia encounter not only competition from government trade unions, which attempt to channel workers into a controllable organizational type. They also encounter threats, dismissals, and discrimination – and several leaders have been killed. However, international pressure from consumers, organizations like Clean Clothes, and big international trade unions can often be of help:
“Through Clean Clothes Campaign we have accomplished important victories. Fortune Garment & Woollen Knitting Factory systematically discriminated against the unionized workers, but after a campaign the company has had to grant the trade unionists several rights”, Athit Kong told Norwatch.
He reported that today there are 340 apparel factories in Cambodia that manufacture for the international market. Altogether they employ 320,000 workers. Kong also related another case that had recently had a positive conclusion. The factory River Rich Textile Limited, which manufactures for, among others, Zara and Hennes & Mauritz, had dismissed 30 unionized workers. “After an intense international campaign the factory had to withdraw the dismissals”, Kong related.
The campaign Clean Clothes was launched in Oslo on 14 June 2007. More information about the campaign can be found at the Norwegian web site: http://www.reneklaer.no.