Select Committees are a cross-party group of MPs who conduct inquiries into areas of government policy and make recommendations for change to Government and others.
Jenny Holdcroft highlighted the importance of freedom of association and the need for industry-wide change and reform of brand’s purchasing practices at the inquiry held by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“Certainly, our perspective is that you cannot deliver change factory by factory because this industry is too big,” said Holdcroft. “You are working in a highly competitive environment where you have factories competing with each other for international orders and brands competing with each other to produce low-cost clothing to sell on the high street.
“We need to work together to transform the conditions in the production countries where all of the companies are buying from.”
The hearing showed that there is no one country or brand where it is better to buy clothes:
“Every company will tell you that freedom of association is respected in their supply chains because they are sourcing from countries that have ratified the ILO Convention on Freedom of Association, therefore everything is okay. Of course, the reality is very different from that. It is fair to say, yes, we are sourcing from countries that, on paper, have legislation. It is not ideal but most of it is not that bad. It is the enforcement of that legislation and this is where companies have a strong role to play.
“The measure for us is to what extent are the companies working with us to solve these issues directly concerning workers. The workers are our members, or should be if they only had an opportunity to join a trade union.
“The unions, when they try to organize, face every kind of hostility from employers. They get sacked, arrested, beaten up; even killed. It is a huge challenge. What we need companies to do is to send a message to their suppliers that this is unacceptable and if you want to do business with us you have to stop these practices.”
Jenny Holdcroft also talked of IndustriALL’s gold standard of global framework agreements with individual multinational companies to protect workers’ rights throughout their supply chains. In the UK fashion industry, IndustriALL only has one such agreement – with online retailer ASOS.
IndustriALL also gave a written submission to the parliamentary Select Committee which you can read here.
Garment brands, including ASOS, will be appearing before the Committee next week to answer questions on their business practices.
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