Power Imbalance in the Global Supply Chain: The Need for Social Dialogue
Organized by: FairWear
Presence of trade unions in the garment sector is estimated to be around 5% in South Asian region. Low unionization in formal industry is true not only for the garment sector but holds good for most of the production facilities of global value chain. This clearly skews the power balance between two crucial players in production countries. After the Rana Plaza incidence in 2013, the number of unionised factories increased substantially in Bangladesh but in the last two years during the pandemic, unionisation at the factory level has decreased. Registering a new union has been described as cumbersome by many worker leaders and the number of rejected trade union application has increased. The business associations have a strong apprehension that unions may destroy the factory. The trade union are weak both financially and institutionally. The member subscription is not adequate to operationalise activities effectively. The nature of social dialogue between trade unions and worker
committees or trade unions were largely limited to exchange of information and consultations and in some rare occasions also negotiations. Wages, working hours and OHS were the main topics addressed in the social dialogue.
While strong and progressive legislations would certainly help the unions and give them a good standing to negotiate with their employers on equal terms; the same cannot be said about the factories/suppliers vis-à-vis brands. There are associations of factories across the countries and sectors but they fail to demand for a decent price to cover their cost of production. This is primarily because of the nature of the industry where all compliance responsibilities lie with the supplier while the resources are amassed at brands/buyer level.
The pandemic has had an enormous impact on the garment industry. The realisation of strong power dynamics in the industry came to the fore soon after the world was affected by the first wave of Covid-19. Workers’ rights have come under even more pressure than before. Workers were not paid or paid less during the lockdown times or sudden order cancellations mails came from brands to suppliers due to the uncertainty of business during corona. The imbalance between several crucial players of the industry was not unknown earlier but the brunt was faced by those with less power vis-à-vis other in the same value chain.
The said session will follow the standard pattern with a moderator and few panel speakers. The moderator will introduce the topic and give a short presentation on different power holders in the global supply chain with garment industry being a case in point. Post that the panel speakers, representing varied stakeholders from the garment industry, will share their thoughts on how the supply chain actors can enjoy similar power and the experts would share some of the normative principles around it.
We would like to have a session in which multiple actors present their view on power imbalance in garment supply chain and ways in which it can be corrected. We would bring in experts to share their viewpoints on it too. Our session will showcase how power imbalance is adversely affecting the industry and ways in which it can be corrected.
We aim to give answers to the following questions:
What are the different power centres in global supply chain?
Who is the least impacted party in adversity and why?
How are each party affected due to the power imbalance?
How can the industry correct the imbalances?