June 13, 2011

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Playing Fair with Indonesians' Freedom of Association The ITUC recently released its <a href="http://www.ituc-csi.org/press-release-anti-union.html" target="_self">Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights</a>. As many companies are increasingly moving away from China to other locations in Southeast Asia, the ITUC’s assessment on anti-union repression in Asia-Pacific should be of interest to many.<br /><br />One country which is increasing in importance for brands is Indonesia. Official data shows that most Indonesian garment and textile suppliers were already fully booked for this year in 2010 and the trend is being widely-observed. This development is great news for Indonesia and the country’s economic development but&nbsp;brands should beware of the risks they face in relation to supply chain workers’ rights. Both the ITUC and the <a href="http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eap/135992.htm" target="_self">US State Department’s Human Rights Report</a> paint a relatively grim and unstable picture of the protection of workers’ freedom of association. A study conducted by <a href="http://www.itglwf.org/lang/en/documents/ITGLWFSportswearReport2011.pdf" target="_self">ITGLWF</a> found that of 18 randomly surveyed factories all had taken anti-union measures and the study emphasizes the extreme lengths to which employers go in their anti-union measures. Common tactics range from denying union representatives access to workers and facilities to interference with union activities&nbsp;through&nbsp;overtime requirements&nbsp;and the use of contractors to avoid unionization.<br /><br />Luckily, prevailing practice is no longer being accepted as the status quo. <a href="http://www.playfair2012.org/" target="_self">Play Fair 2012</a>, a campaign targeting the sports industry in conjunction with the London Olympics next year has coordinated one excellent response to address freedom of association in Indonesia. What has been called a <a href="http://www.playfair2012.org.uk/2011/06/campaign-progress-historic-agreement-signed-with-sportswear-brands/" target="_self">“historic agreement”</a>&nbsp;was signed between sportswear brands, including Nike, Adidas and Puma, Indonesian trade unions and major supplier factories seeking to secure freedom of association in garment and textile factories. The protocol is very detailed and in many parts practically addresses issues identified by the ITGLWF and ITUC. As one trade unionist explains: <a href="http://www.playfair2012.org.uk/2011/06/campaign-progress-historic-agreement-signed-with-sportswear-brands/" target="_self">“This protocol is important because our law does not cover technical implementation of freedom of association. The agreement will ensure brands take responsibility to ensure respect for union rights.”<br /></a>In many ways the initiative is an excellent example of successful corporate responsibility – brands engaging with stakeholders to address shortcomings in worker protection. The real test, however, will be whether and how the Protocol is implemented. Play Fair has already announced that it will be monitoring enforcement closely and hopes to expand the protocol to other supplier countries in the future. Equally important will be to see how smaller, less prominent brands take up the initiative. After all, freedom of association is a fundamental right afforded to all workers, not only those affiliated with large brands. Companies sourcing from Indonesia should explore possibilities to engage in this field and use the opportunity to support not only the country’s economic development but also the strengthening of workers’ rights.

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