Following the example set by Inditex (which houses the well known Zara brand), H&M, Tchibo, and Asos, this summer clothing brands Mango and Esprit concluded global agreements that guarantee ILO international conventions will be respected as regards their global supply chains. The 2013 Rana Plaza (Bangladesh) disaster in which 1,100 workers lost their lives after the collapse of a building housing many factories that manufactured clothing for the major US and European brands marked a turning point for the textile sector and for business more generally. The major brands were faced with significant reputational risk and had to implement measures on a volontury basis. These global agreements are an example of such.

The Esprit global agreement signed with the global union federation IndustriAll Global Union was made public on 06 August and two weeks earlier Mango announced the signing of its own global agreement. Both brands signed their agreements with IndustriAll Global Union as did Asos (October 2017), Tchibo (c.f. post EELA 27 September 2016), and much earlier H&M (November 2015), as well as frontrunner Inditex (2007).

These newer agreements differ from the classic global CSR agreements where multinational companies commit to respecting international labor conventions across their subsidiaries and with their sub-contractors and suppliers being much more marginal issues. These newer agreements expressly address the issue of supply chains and include specific measures:

* The commitment to regularly communicate their list of sub-contractors and suppliers to trade unions in a transparent fashion

* The implementation of alert mechanisms in situations where commitments are contravened

* Audits with trade unions to ensure that working conditions respect fundamental rights (no forced labor, no child labor etc.)

However above all these agreements focus on union rights, based on the principle that better practice can only come about if workers and suppliers are able to organize and unionize in order to invoke and advance their rights.

Both Esprit and Mango, like the other brands mentioned above have committed to facilitating worker unionization across their supplier factories by especially facilitating direct union access to these workers via information dissemination and training programs for supervisory staff so that an environment is created that fosters freedom of association and the building of sustainable internal dialogue within the factories.

The impact of these agreements is significant. Just looking at the Esprit agreement alone, some 525,000 workers across 1,100 suppliers in 27 countries are now impacted.

For these companies these types of agreements are but one tool among broad range such as the ACT initiative (Action, collaboration, Transformation), which aims to put a living wage in place in textile production regions by implementing sector-based collective bargaining in the major production countries.

This briefing provides an opportunity to draw your attention to the publication prior to the summer of a Guide on Transnational Company Agreements: Issues, Approaches and Practices for employers organizations and companies (available here), which was prepared by the International Organisation of Employers for the International Labour Organization.