Development Education and Awareness Raising in the trade union movement

Trade unions have been active of Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) for a long time, international solidarity being in their founding principles. But in the times of the global economic crisis and increasing interdependency, the engagement of workers and trade unions in building understanding and engagement in global development processes among the TU members as well as the wide public has never been more crucial. In order to support DEAR in the trade union movement, TUDCN is planning a seminar on this topic.

Having a global vision of development, being aware of the interdependence of factors and processes in development, understanding the causes and the effects, participating and engaging in, based on the values of human rights and social responsibility: this is what defines DEAR. And it is also what it means today to be part of the trade union movement – wrote Gemma Arpaia (ISCOS) in her article on DE published by TUDCN earlier this year.

One way to define Development Education (closely related to the concepts of Global Education, Education for Global Citizenship, Education for Sustainable Development and others) is:

Development education is an active learning process, founded on values of solidarity, equality, inclusion and co-operation. It enables people to move from basic awareness of international development priorities and sustainable human development, through understanding of the causes and effects of global issues to personal involvement and informed actions.

DE fosters the full participation of all citizens in world-wide poverty eradication, and the fight against exclusion. It seeks to influence more just and sustainable economic, social, environmental, human rights based national and international policies. [1]

In Ireland, UK, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Belgium trade unions are particularly active in DE, but some TU activities in this domain has been also taking place in Austria and Cyprus. Still, the domain seems under-explored or simply new to many other actors in the global trade union movement.

Trade unions engage in DEAR, because building solidarity with workers around the world is at the core of their mission. Additional motivation comes also from wanting to strengthen their international solidarity work and broaden their cooperation on with other trade unions (in EU and beyond).

Trade unions consider themselves to be significant players in educating members and the general public on development. The international trade union movement is in a position to mobilise some 175m members worldwide to build support for the rights-based approach to development as part of their campaign for a sustainable improvement in the living standards of their members, families and their communities throughout the world. The TUC (UK) believes that the union movement has an important role to play in maintaining and building public support for development, e.g. towards meeting the UN target of 0.7% of GNI for development cooperation – wrote TUC in the response to the TUDCN survey on DE.

Trade union DEAR projects

The projects focus mostly on trade union rights, but the topics include also the wide human rights agenda, poverty and other related issues. Vast majority of the projects has workshop or training components. Some include also publications and online campaigns, electronic newsletters and street actions. The scope of projects varies from local, through national and European to international.

Trade unions carry out DEAR projects as lead organisations or partners with other TUs, SSOs, NGOs and governmental institutions. Most of the projects engage trade union members, but target groups include also teachers, youth and wide public. Funding for trade union DEAR activities comes mostly from European and national grants, with a part of the activities being covered from the organisations’ own funds.

ICTU (Ireland) has been running the Global Solidarity Development Education for over 4 years with the financial support of IrishAid. Within the programme, ICTU trains Global Solidarity Champions, organises Global Solidarity Summer Schools and develops educational materials on various dimensions of labour rights.

Making Migration Work for Development is an EC-funded project, led by SOLIDAR (a network of NGOs and trade unions) in cooperation with a wide range of partners, including ISCOC-CISL, CGIL and ISCOD. The project aims to mobilise support from European citizens and politicians for a rights-based-approach to labour migration and decent work and for policy coherence for development through a series of events and publications.

One of the flagship examples of awareness raising activities based on a partnership between NGOs and trade unions is the Clean Clothes Campaign that engages TUs both in Europe and beyond. Aiming at improving working conditions and supporting the empowerment of workers in the global garment and sportswear industries, the campaign mobilises consumers, lobbies companies and governments, and offers direct solidarity support to workers.

The Playfair 2012 campaign, co-led by the TUC (UK) and Labour Behind Label, a member of the CCC is another great example. Supporters of the campaign, aiming at improving working conditions in the sportswear industries, include a wide spectrum of trade unions and NGOs. Using the attention attracted by Olympic Games, the campaign raises awareness of consumers and puts pressure on the Olympic Committee and sportswear companies.

In addition to the ‘classic’ DEAR projects, trade unions often carry out direct actions in solidarity with unionists from other countries (European and non-European). Education for Sustainable Development has also been an important issue on the trade union agenda, especially in the run up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and a large number of trainings and educational programmes on this topic has been carried out within the trade union movement worldwide.


To support and encourage more DEAR projects, TUDCN will host in November 2012 a seminar on that topic. In preparation to the seminar, TUDCN carried out a short survey on trade union Development Education projects among its affiliates. It has been completed by a desk study and a series of phone interviews with trade union and CSO representatives.

TUDCN Seminar on Development Education will take place on November 5-7th 2012 in Vienna, Austria. It will focus on the exchange of best practice in trade union development cooperation, partnerships with CSO and governmental partners, overview of the current European processes on DE and fundraising for DE programmes. The seminar will also discuss how to best support TUs engaged in Development Education through the work of TUDCN. All interested trade unions, SSOs, GUFs and other partners are invited to take part. More detailed information and registration forms will be circulated in September.

ITUC, represented by TUDCN, is a member of the European Multi-stakeholder group on Development Education (MSH) and an observer to the DARE Forum (Concord).

More information:

 Development Education and Awareness Raising: does it matter for trade unions?– article by Gemma Arpaia, ISCOS
 DEEEP project (Concord) – DE news and resources from all around Europe

For more information, please contact Kasia Szeniawska, ITUC/TUDCN ([email protected])