Trade Unions at the European Development Days 2016

The European Development Days (EDDs) is a yearly event organised by the European Commission, which brings together actors from across the development community. For its tenth edition, the EDDs focused on the ‘Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development’. The two-day event was held on the 15th and 16th of June 2016 in Brussels, Belgium and trade unions were present.

The European Development Days 2016 began with a brainstorming session on how to ensure responsibility within the garment value chain. The session was co-organised by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Brussels Office, TUDCN and DG DEVCO, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development. It featured four speakers who lead working groups which approached the issue from different perspectives: workers, campaigners, business and policy-makers.

From left to right: Julius Cainglet (Federation of Free Workers - Philippines), Ruth Hoekstra (DG DEVCO), Gudrun Kopp (ENoP), Arne Lietz (MEP - S&D), Sarah Ditty (Fashion Revolution), Braema Mathi (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism), Joan Lanfranco (TUDCN) and Sidonie Wetzig (FES)

Julius Cainglet, from the Federation of Free Workers in the Philippines lead discussions on how consumer behaviours affect working conditions on the ground. It was highlighted that the use of indirect employment, which has become the norm, facilitates companies further down the value chain to evade responsibility (only 6% of workers in their value chains are directly employed by 50 top multinational companies). It was observed that the increased mobility that comes with indirect employment means that a company need not relocate but rather just change supplier, increasing the ‘race to the bottom’ effect on labour conditions. Participants agreed that society cannot afford to wait for another Rana Plaza-like tragedy to impose the systemic change needed. Participants also agreed that policy tools already exist, for instance in the form of ILO standards or the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but that these should be accompanied of mandatory and enforceable international mechanisms. Another way of promoting better labour conditions would be an increased donor emphasis on labour standards in development projects, and a strict provision for labour standards in trade agreements.

The other discussions were equally as productive and lead to similar conclusions.
Braema Mathi, from Dignity for All, Singapore, assessed the international agreements’ potential. Valuable binding and non-binding international instruments protect the rights of workers around the world (e.g. the Convention on the Rights of Children, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights proposed, ILO conventions and standards). However, existing policy tools need to be supported by mandatory and enforceable international mechanisms. In the same way, the SDGs are an important landmark and give actors the momentum to fight for change with a focus on universal human rights.

From the campaigner perspective, Sarah Ditty, from Fashion Revolution lead the talk which highlighted the potential for consumer awareness to be leveraged in order to demand information and responsibility of high street retailers. It was recognised that the vast majority of consumers do not want to impose abusive conditions on workers but simply do not have the time or ability to verify every detail. The role of campaigning is to galvanise that shared sentiment in order to put pressure on value chains to be fairer.

In the discussion lead by Pamela Ravasio from the European Outdoor Group, focussing on the business perspective it was highlighted that the demand and supply correlation is a dominating factor for any business decisions. Consumers tend to go for the cheaper prices while ignoring productions circumstances. Alas, not even products in the higher or premium price range are produced under guaranteed ethical circumstances. Companies’ drive for profit is the dominating factor for any decision making, although it may not be the only reference.

Participating in the session were MEP Arne Lietz (S&D, Germany), Antti Karhunen, head of the Private Framework Development, Trade, Regional Integration unit at DG DEVCO, as well as other representatives from EU Institutions, the German Development Institution GIZ, CSOs including trade unions, and garment businesses. The topic was wrapped up by Ruth Hoekstra, policy officer at DG DEVCO. The working groups were wrapped up by Ruth Hoekstra, policy officer at DG DEVCO and Ms. Gudrun Kopp, ENoP Advisory Board member, concluded the event by bringing up the important message that sustainable development is a political commitment and needs to involve strong involvement of all stakeholders – in reference to the universality of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

You can find a summary of the event by ENoP, the European Network of Political Foundations, here

After the welcome ceremony, attended by the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, it was time for a session entitled ‘Combating Forced Labour and Child Labour Through Supply Chain Interventions’ with Jeroen Beirnaert, policy coordinator at ITUC as speaker. During the panel discussion it was highlighted that, in order to keep up with the international functioning of many markets and corporations, social dialogue must also be extended to the international arena in order for key stakeholders to be on the same footing. Another key to ending forced and child labour, modern slavery and human trafficking is to ensure mandatory due diligence across supply chains.

From left to right: Annie Kelly (The Guardian), Françoise Millecam (DG DEVCO), Beate Andrees (ILO), Max Schmid (EJF), Jeroen Beirnaert (ITUC), Paula Byrne (Caobisco)

The trade union participation in the second day of the EDDs focused on the session entitled ‘Universalising Effective Development Cooperation (EDC)’. The focus of the session was on finding ways of advancing a people-centred development. The discussion confirmed the central role of accountability, transparency and ownership in ensuring an effective implementation of the Agenda 2030. The session, which was organised by the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, featured Joan Lanfranco, Advocacy Officer at the TUDCN, on the panel. He highlighted the contribution that multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSHP) can make towards achieving these three goals. He noted that there is often an incomplete understanding of MSHPs which resulted in an over-representation of the private sector and neglected other important socio-economic actors.

With concrete examples from Ghana, Indonesia and Uruguay, it was illustrated how social dialogue, one such form of MSHP, has in the past contributed to Sustainable Development Goals 1, 5, 8, 10 and 16. Social dialogue, i.e. all types of negotiation, consultation or exchanges of information between representatives of employers, workers and governments on issues generally relating to economic and social policy, is particularly relevant for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 8 on Decent Work. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian quartet in 2015 showed how social dialogue contributes to ameliorating the national context and building a peaceful and inclusive society. That is why social dialogue also presents clear opportunities for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).

The TUDCN can look back on a positive participation in the tenth European Development Days and looks forward to the next edition.