On November 11 and 12, trade union representatives of 23 of Inditex’s supplier factories in Vietnam met in Da Nang, in the centre of the country, with another 16 trade union leaders from different levels of the textile sector, who were from the provinces of Bac Giang, Hai Duong, Thanh Hoa, DaNang, Ho Chi Minh, Long An, Binh Duong and Dong Nai. The Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) was represented by Tran Van Ly (Confederal Vice-President) and Ha Phuong Thao from VGCL’s international department, as well as its sectorial organisation, the National Union of Textile and Garment Workers and Nguyen Thi Thuy (General Vice-Secretary). Ta Thi Bich Lien, the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) national project coordinator, also participated.
The following participated on the part of IndustriALL Global Union (IGU): Christina Halagos (Person in charge of the worldwide textile sector), Yoon Hyowon (Project coordinator in Southeast Asia) along with Víctor Garrido and Isidor Boix (General Coordinators of the Global Framework Agreement –GFA– with Inditex and members of CCOO Industry’s International Trade Union Action Secretariat). The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) was represented by Erwin Schweisshel (Director of its office in Vietnam) as well as Do Quynh Chi (an investigator that presented the current situation of Vietnam’s textile, garment and footwear sectors).
The meeting was convened as part of the 3-year cooperation agreement between IGU and Vietnam’s VGCL Confederation, with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, for the creation of a national Trade Union Network in Inditex’s supply chain in Vietnam, as well as the election of its coordinators. Its objectives included putting forward, for next year, a specific action plan integrating trade union strategies in defence of workers’ rights in the sector in Vietnam.
Development of the network began in 2015, when IGU held a workshop on unionisation in the worldwide supply chain on August 13 and 15 in Ho Chi Minh City. On October 9 and 10, 2015, a Trade Union Network was created in the north, followed by one in the centre and south on March 30 and April 1, 2016.
As we mentioned in our previous visits, this is the world’s first Trade Union Network encompassing the suppliers of a brand in the garment, footwear and accessory sector. It is also the first one in the supply chain of a multinational in the industrial sector.
In 2014 Inditex worked with 104 factories in Vietnam’s garment and footwear industry, with about 105,000 workers, mainly located around Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, who manufactured 37 million pieces, 3% of its different brands’ annual total.
During this year, 2016, after the meetings for the creation of networks in each part of the country, 4 trade union seminars were held; they were imparted by IGU and FES and aimed at trade union workers in the factories of Inditex’s supply chain here. Two of them were held in Ho Chi Ming and another 2 in Hanoi, dealing with matters regarding collective bargaining, trade union networks and their structures, Vietnamese and international legislation, and GFAs.
In the end, 4 persons (4 women) were chosen as Coordinators of the Trade Union Network, one for the north area, another for the south area, another to represent the federation of Vietnam’s textile and garment sector, and another at the national level on the part of the Vietnamese trade union confederation.
In the field of the Global Framework Agreement with Inditex, this is the first experience in creating a Trade Union Network, and also worldwide. Trade union networks exist, but not in a supply chain, i.e. encompassing all the subcontracting of its industrial activities. It is also worth highlighting the significance of all of this in regard to the application of the Framework Agreement.
Details of the meeting, objectives and expectations regarding the creation of the trade union network.
The 23 trade union representatives of the factories were from 10 of Vietnam’s provinces, in which Inditex’s supply chain is mostly located (5 in the north, 4 in the south and 1 in the centre). Two of them work in the production department and the rest are managers or administrative staff, including several human resources managers. Seven were presidents of their companies’ trade union and 4 were vice-presidents. The discussion highlighted the insufficient representativeness resulting from these figures.
The different participations dealt with the situation of the sector, the GFAs, the trade union networks, as well as Inditex’s global and local sustainability model, presented by 2 representatives of its corresponding department, who attended one of the meeting’s sessions along with several of its main suppliers in the country.
Do Quynh Chi, an independent investigator, presented his recent study on the “National Situation of the Textile, Garment and Footwear Industries and the Supply Chain,” which highlights Vietnam’s industrial development and its consequences for the garment and footwear industries.
The coordinator of the ILO’s National Project, Ta Thi Bich Lien, described the collective bargaining carried out by groups of companies, with the example of activities between the VGCL and ILO, as well as the Hai Phong EZTU and Da Nang FOL project, whose programmes are based on support for Vietnam’s national organisation, oriented at creating trade union capacity in companies, collective bargaining with multiple employers and social dialogue, respectively.
Below is a summary of the participation of the factories’ trade union representatives:
Ø They were all private-capital companies: from Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. In 2014, they had all worked for Inditex (Zara, Pull&Bear, Massimo Dutti, etc.), although some no longer did in 2015. They also worked for other international brands, such as: MANGO, C&A, H&M, WALMART, GAP…
Ø 17 of them worked for the garment sector and 7 for the footwear sector.
Ø The number of workers in these factories varied greatly: 6 of them formed part of industrial groups that had from 13,000 to 19,000 workers; 1 had 8,500 workers; 2 had 1,100 and 1,800 workers, respectively, and the rest between 200 and 970 workers.
Ø In relation to remuneration and working time, their participation coincided with what we indicated in our previous reports and the problems detected in our factory visits (in May 2015 and now in our latest visit to factories in Mango’s supply chain from November 7 to 10).
Ø There also arose proposals to improve other aspects of working conditions (health and safety, work organisation, hiring, social protection, etc…).
Ø They all declared union membership to be close to 100% (according to the VGCL, there is 90% union membership in the textile-garment sector and around 80% membership in the footwear sector).
Ø The network representatives highlighted that trade unions must participate actively to guarantee respect, in the workplace, for the principles included in the Framework Agreement. The formal introduction of trade unions does not always result in effect trade union action, with full exercising of trade union rights.
Ø They clearly expressed their willingness to establish ways of trade union coordination between the factories present and the others that work for Inditex, as well as others that work for other world garment brands.
Ø Around 70% of the factories in both sectors have some formal kind of collective bargaining, company agreements that generally establish small wage increases in relation to the country’s minimum wage, which they said were negotiated between the company’s trade union structure and business management. Most participations were aimed at:
Decreasing the hours of work, highlighting pending matters regarding the improvement of work organisation and business management, as well as technology; the high cost of imported raw materials, etc.
o Problems derived from the demands of multinational companies in relation to delivery deadlines, the prices paid by the brands, etc…, which should be dealt with specifically in the negotiation between supplier companies and multinational purchasers.
o Improving vocational training, of both workers and managers, and also health and safety.
o As well as boosting the national sectorial Collective Agreement, based on these ideas.
For our part, we discussed matters in the context of globalisation, underlining the case of the GFA with Inditex, explaining its implementation in the world and how we coordinate and monitor it. We highlighted the need for a trade union action plan in the area specified by those involved, with clearly defined actions for Inditex’s production chain that include the formation of this National Trade Union Network, the exercising of the rights involved, as well as the promotion of collective bargaining. We provided practical examples from our country, underlining the leading role that must be played by Vietnam’s trade unions, with the management of the VGCL and its Textile-Garment Trade Union Federation. All of this with the support of IGU, as well as all the trade unions in the countries where the companies that manufacture in Vietnam are based, both multinationals that already have a Framework Agreement (the case of Inditex and now that of H&M) and those that have Corporate Responsibility commitments, which are enforceable despite being unilateral.
Another problem that was raised is the fact that in most of the factories present (coinciding with most of those we visited on this and previous occasions) trade union managers also occupy business management posts (in production, human resources, etc.). This is an important matter that we already considered in our interview with the VGCL management during our trip in May 2015.
In short, and in relation to the following steps to be taken, the following proposals were put forward by those present for the 2017 action plan:
Ø Coordination System (made up of 4 persons with substitutes) of the Trade Union Network, with specific functions, initiative capacity, etc.
Ø Implementing the GFA and activating mechanisms regarding its knowledge and monitoring.
Ø Improving the industrial situation in order to improve the sector’s working conditions, to make it more sustainable.
Ø Improving the participation of the different trade unionists in the Trade Union Network’s companies, to facilitate its functioning.
Ø Continue working with IGU to attain better coordination and optimum functioning of the Trade Union Network, creating work groups on the part of the coordinators in each area of the country.
Ø Holding trade union training seminars for the National Coordinator’s trade union representatives.
Ø A meeting in November 2017 to evaluate the work carried out.
Ø Convening a meeting in the country with the support of VGCL and IGU, institutions and with the participation of the trade unions in the countries where the parent companies are based (in Europe: Spain, Swede, Germany…), to discuss aspects of the production chains as well as the possibility of boosting the National Sectorial Agreement, or other kinds of actions as part of the ACT project, whose implementation is proving to be interesting in Cambodia.
The creation of this Trade Union Network and its Coordinator is an interesting project that can be applied to worldwide supply chains, whose workers make up 50% of the workforce within the world’s industrial fabric, but only 3% of whom belong directly to the personnel of the corresponding multinationals.
An experience that sheds light on our responsibility, as trade unions in the parent companies, in defending labour rights throughout these production chains, taking into account the great reference value of the ILO’s Conventions but their scarce direct effectiveness. CSR is proving to be a useful instrument for progressing towards decent work that undoubtedly requires greater business involvement, but also a new and greater trade union initiative regarding which this experience in Vietnam may be useful. And also reflection on the part of trade unions in order to advance in trade union coordination in each of the new spheres that are being generated, such as trade union networks or any other type of system that enables the organisation of the working class in each part of the world, by means of the organisations most involved in each case, i.e. each country’s trade unions.
The idea is to demonstrate by our specific trade union action, not only by words, that we understand that globalisation is, in many aspects, an irreversible phenomenon and that local, national and global trade union intervention is necessary for the defence of workers’ rights.