January 9, 2009
The final panel highlighted two different campaigns - one at the international level focused on the sportswear industry and another in Asia focused on wages - to assess their relevance in the Americas.
Kevin Thomas from MSN presented the core pillars of an international campaign targeting sportswear manufacturers. The Play Fair campaign has identified four main "hurdles" that impede progress on other labour rights issues: a negative climate for union organizing, increased flexibilization of labour, industry restructuring and closures, and a race to the bottom on wages. For each hurdle, the campaign has proposed concrete and specific actions that brands and manufacturers can take to address the problem
May Wong of Globalization Monitor, presented another international campaign that has brought together organizations from across Asia. The Asia Floor Wage Campaign proposes to develop comparable wage increases across the main producing countries in Asia where, they argue, production will remain even if wages increase substantially. The campaign, which is set to launch October 2009, is focused on first tier manufacturers in each country and the buyers that use their services.
Following the presentations, four participants, representing different regional and national campaigns, were asked to respond to the question: Do these priorities and proposals make sense in the region?
Ariane Grau Crespo from the Central American Campaign Against Flexibilization said that she sees flexibilization as a broader issue than the contract issues addressed in MSN's presentation. Ariane described how flexibilization in the region is also a matter of work intensity and organization, relaxation of labour regulations, and increases in hours of work.
Juan Carlos Vargas and Patricia Juan Pineda
Patricia Juan Pineda from the Campaign Against Protection Contracts remarked that the issue of freedom of association was complicated in Mexico because of the presence of "official unions" that do not represent the workers, so that the issue in Mexico is to do away with protection contracts and facilitate the development of independent unions. It is estimated that 90% of collective contracts in Mexico are protection contracts.
Juan Carlos Varga, from Plades in Peru, emphasized the demand for freedom of association as vital, saying that we should demand that brands source from unionized factories. He said the union is a sustainable vehicle to achieve other goals - countering discrimination, health and safety, etc. While he agreed that the four critical issues were all relevant and favoured the approach presented, he pointed out that "closures" is a different kind of issue because it's more temporary and therefore dealing with this issue implies a defensive strategy.
Jeanette Urquilla, ORMUSA
Jeanette Urquila, from ORMUSA in Central America said first that the gender analysis in these demands needs to be stronger. Second, she said, the issue of occupational health and safety for women needs to be added to the four critical issues. She said this is a fundamental issue because of years of life lost for women in the industry as a result of preventable health problems. Lastly, she said, these issues need to be taken up with governments in each country, not just with brands.
During the discussion that followed, participants confirmed the validity of the focus on the four key "hurdles", but argued that a stronger gender focus is essential if campaign proposals are to seriously address the specific impacts of changes taking place in the industry on women. Women's health and safety issues, particularly muscular and skeletal injured caused by the increased pace of production, extended working hours due to the introduction of 4X4 work schedules, and unrealistic production targets, are a strong focus for many of the women's organizations in the region.
The participants also expressed their interest in a regional approach to wages in the Americas, leaning from the Asia Floor Wage Campaign.