As the Executive Director of China Labour Bulletin (CLB), can you say a few words on the objectives and work method of your NGO?
Han Dongfang: CLB’s mission is to improve workers’ lives with a specific focus on achieving decent salary and safe working conditions. Educating workers to be more aware of rights violations is one thing. Helping workplace unions to build capacity to negotiate with employers by themselves is quite a different target. In the past two decades, CLB’s work method has been simple: identify and work with partner trade unions in production countries, support building unions in targeted factories (producing for multinational brands), and the unions will approach employers to establish collective bargaining for decent salary and safer working conditions.
Do you see potential for CLB or other civil society organisations and trade unions in the Global South in using Supply Chain Due Diligence Acts, such as the one we have in Germany, to improve workers’ rights?
Han Dongfang: For trade unions in the Global South, the supply chain laws are the best and maybe the most important development in the past three decades. From now on, corporate social responsibility is no longer voluntary but a legal obligation of, in this case German companies. For decades, case after case and campaign after campaign, even after the tragedy of Rana plaza, trade unions in the production countries have not become stronger. Trade unions are still far away from being able to ride the waves generated by international campaigns to build our own collective bargaining capacity to negotiate with employers. The fatal weakness of trade unions in the Global South is the fear of management retaliation against union representatives. With the new laws in effect in Germany for example, employers in the production countries understood that our union and our supporters in Germany can submit a case to the German authorities or prospectively to European courts when they violate local laws and international labor standards. Of course, our goal is not going to court. Our hope is to increase the willingness for employers to enter collective bargaining with the union in good faith.
What are the conditions to achieve this potential of strengthening Global South trade unions?
Han Dongfang: It needs international collaboration and support during implementation. On the one hand, international campaigns will not create long lasting solutions, if they are not embedded in specific workplace negotiations in the Global South. On the other hand, while our union is bargaining with an employer, it is important for union representatives and members to know that one or two specific organizations in the Global North are backing us up. This back up is needed to submit a court case or an authority complaint when needed, particularly when employers are threatening and retaliating against worker representatives. Employers will also be more willing to enter collective bargaining with our union in good faith. In the long term, successful use of supply chain laws is likely to result in higher numbers of trade union members, strengthened bargaining position of unions and higher chances for better collective bargaining agreements. As a result, more unions in the Global South are capable of standing on our own foot, and gradually, more responsible global supply chains are achieved through workers participation via union-management negotiation. I will be happy to see more organizations and unions use supply chain due diligence laws so that different case studies can be created.
What is your perspective on the EU supply chain law?
Han Dongfang: An EU law expands due diligence obligations for companies throughout the European Union. It is not only creating more space and opportunities for our unions in the Global South to gain better lives for workers but also create a level playing field for European companies.