The ITGLWF’s policy on cross-border dialogue in the textiles, clothing and footwear sector: Emerging strategies in a sector ruled by codes of conduct and resistant companies

Doug Miller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The central problem for trade unions in the global textiles, clothing and footwear (TCF) sector is the absence of a mature system of industrial relations in most of the countries where production is located. From the perspective of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF) — the global union federation representing some 240 affiliated TCF unions in 110 countries — such a system is defined as the presence of well-organized workforces in supplier factories, organized by recognized, trained and independent trade union representatives able to engage in grievance and dispute resolution, as well as in periodic but regular collective bargaining with the management of production sites. In an industry with approximately 26 million workers in its formal sector (ILO, 2000), the extent to which industrial relations can be defined as “mature” is indeed very limited. Furthermore, official figures for union density in the sector are not available. 3 Thus, while the affiliated membership data for the ITGLWF in 2006 give a figure of 1.7 million, there is still an unspecified number of unions that have chosen not to affiliate to the global union federation for ideological or other reasons. Based on available data, a density figure of 12 per cent is probably exaggerated, when one takes into account the (very conservative) International Labour Organization (ILO) estimate of workers in the sector (which does not cover those informal parts of the industry) and other inaccuracies in the recording of membership. 4 Moreover, this figure masks major differences among unions in the various subsectors of the TCF sector. This chapter elaborates several major features of the TCF sector that present significant obstacles in the way of ITGLWF action aimed at organizing workers across borders. The first part provides data and examples that demonstrate, among other things, that the notion of “crossborder organizing” (euphemistically called “organizing along supply chains”— see below) appears to be over-optimistic and premature, to the extent that buyer-driven production chains are based on a very complex and opaque web of relations among the various tiers of outsourced production. The second part focuses on the strategy of the ITGLWF in the areas of multinational research and networking, which are viewed as a necessary step in any efforts to organize workers and pave the way towards a form of social dialogue across borders. The third section of the chapter outlines some reasons that explain the particular approach taken by the ITGLWF towards cross-border dialogue with multinational companies (MNCs) in the industry, including the absence of transparency of supply chains, the (mis)perception of codes of conduct as satisfactory forms of global social compliance, the rise of multi-stakeholder initiatives and the embedded culture of “union avoidance” in the industry. The final section outlines the background to the conclusion of the first international framework agreement (IFA) in the TCF sector with an MNC.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCross-Border social dialogue and agreements: an emerging global industrial relations framework?
EditorsKonstantinos Papadakis, Dominique Bé
Place of PublicationGeneva
PublisherInternational Labour Office
ISBN (Print)978-9290148623
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


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