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CCC Newsletter 25, May 2008
CCC Solidarity action - general
articleUsing the Media: the Clean Clothes Campaign
linkClean Clothes Campaign website
What's all this campaigning about?
A worker in the garment industry anywhere in the world today is faced with decreasing wages, deteriorating health, and an increased risk of losing her job. The Clean Clothes Campaign (or the "CCC" as it is popularly called) aims to improve working conditions in the garment and sportswear industry. The CCC started in the Netherlands in 1990. At that time stores in the Netherlands were not taking any responsibility for the working conditions under which the clothes they sold were made. But we have come a long way since then. Now there are Clean Clothes Campaigns in nine Western European countries. And now it's more difficult to find retailers here who denounce this responsibility. Campaigners work together with organisations in a variety of countries, including those where garments are produced, and in this way work together as a network to draw attention to labour rights issues in the garment industry.
The structure of the CCC
The Clean Clothes Campaigns in each country are coalitions of consumer organisations, trade unions, human rights and women rights organisations, researchers, solidarity groups and activists. Every national campaign operates autonomously. However, we do work together towards international action. Twice a year representatives from the national secretariats of each CCC gather to exchange information and co-ordinate activities as they are needed on the international level (for example, in negotiations with multinational companies or to set up global campaigns). The campaigns co-operate with organisations all over the world, especially organisations of garment workers (in factories of all sizes), homeworkers and migrant workers (including those without valid working papers).
CCC AREAS OF ACTIVITY
Putting Pressure on Companies
Since the main demand of the Clean Clothes Campaign is that retailers live up to their responsibility to ensure that garments are produced in decent conditions, it's important to be clear about how we define good working conditions. Guiding principles for the improvement of working conditions can be found in the basic conventions issued by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations body; plus the international principles regarding fundamental rights in the workplace. These principles are: freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, no discrimination of any kind, no forced or slave labour, a minimum employment age of 15, safety and health measures, a working week of 48 hours maximum and voluntary overtime of 12 hours maximum, a right to a living wage and establishment of the employment relationship (a contract). Early on our partners from all over the world raised the need for a common code to campaign around. As a result, at the European level the CCC developed a code, called the "Code of Labour Practices for the Apparel Industry Including Sportswear," in which the principles listed above are elaborately described.
We believe that direct reference to ILO standards is a crucial element of our code. Because these standards are the result of an international consultation process, and therefore internationally-accepted standards with agreed upon wording, the possibilities for misinterpretation are limited. In terms of developing our code, this too was the result of a process of international consultation. Informal meetings were organised among the Clean Clothes Campaigns in Europe, the International Trade Union Secretariats (ICTFU, WCL, ITGLWF, ETUC/TCL, FIET, Euro-FIET, WCL-Clothing & Textiles), and other NGOs (such as the UK Fair Trade Foundation and International Restructuring Education Network Europe (IRENE)). Partners in the South gave input on drafts of the codes (for example, Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC), Committee for Asian Women (CAW), members of the OXFAM network, and trade union federations).
In our campaigning, we demand that retailers adopt the standards outlined in the Code of Labour Practices, implement those standards and create a system to continuously monitor that those standards are being upheld. We also ask that companies agree to a system of independent verification. We believe that retailers should ensure that the clothes they sell are made under good labour conditions. Retailers and the major garment companies do more than just sell clothes to consumers -- they are also the buyers of these clothes in Asia or Eastern Europe, and therefore they can and should use their power to improve labour conditions.
Raising Awareness and Pressing for Change
Above all the Clean Clothes Campaign is a consumer campaign -- its strength comes from consumer power. The purchasing power of consumers is being mobilized on the issue of working conditions in the garment industry.
Information on working conditions in the garment industry is distributed via newsletters, the Internet, and in the form of research publications. Consumers are not only interested in the quality of the products they purchase, but also the work behind the brand names; the social and environmental conditions under which these items were produced. We've found this to be the case in our own contact with people, and there are consumer studies that have been carried out in Europe and the U.S. that also support this claim. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that garment manufacturers are more and more concerned about how consumers perceive their company.
The Clean Clothes Campaign tries to involve all sorts of consumer groups (ranging from young consumer groups to rural womens' associations) by organising different forms of education and actions. One form of action is organising consumers to send postcards to companies with questions about their working conditions. In most of the European countries these cards have been sent out, in some countries these initiatives have involved more than 100,000 consumers. In any correspondence with companies, consumers demand improvements in working conditions; they don't call for boycotts. Companies should be pressured to use their influence to improve working conditions, and should not be allowed to cut their orders and run away from the attention that factories with labour problems are receiving. This message -- of labour rights and responsibilities -- is what we try to spread among consumers.
Raising awareness among young consumers is one of the specific goals of many of the CCC consumer campaigns. We look at new ways to reach young people on items that concern them. Actions for youth connected to major sporting events, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, are regularly formulated. Rallies and demonstrations by young people are also organised in many of the Clean Clothes countries. Educational campaigns, such as a slide presentation are done through the school system. In the Netherlands, together with one of the trade union federations, the CCC targeted 1300 schools to use this slide presentation to inform young people about working conditions in sports shoe factories. By using school lessons we not only reach a new segment of the public throughout the country, we are raising awareness amongst new generations.
The Clean Clothes Communities campaign approaches the issues via another angle. Using the concept of creating a sustainable agenda for the 21st century (the UN Local Agenda 21 initiative, which is linked to environmental concerns) the campaigns will pursue community level initiatives that seek to provide opportunities for action on issues of international trade relations, using the global garment and sportswear industry as the entry point. Organising on a more local basis will give consumers more opportunities to get involved in the campaign -- because consumers increasingly want not only to be informed about the campaign but also to actively participate. There will be many possibilities for involvement: local organisations will be involved in targeting local authorities, and groups such as local sports clubs can target local branches of national or even multinational department stores.
The Clean Clothes Campaign also pursues legal possibilities for challenging the bad working conditions in the garment industry. In 1998 the CCC organised the International Forum on Clean Clothes, held in Brussels. At that time cases against seven major garment companies -- Adidas, C&A, Disney, H&M, Levi Strauss, Nike and Otto Versand -- were presented before the Permanent Peoples Tribunal. These cases included testimony from workers and researchers regarding working conditions in factories that produce for each of these brands. For those interested in seeing how this evidence was organised, each of the case files compiled by the CCC on these companies can be found on our website.
One of the goals of this initiative was to work out a legal approach at two levels: the consumers' right to be informed of the working conditions under which the clothes they buy are produced; and the liability of the distributors and the clothing companies at every stage of production. To get a sense of what we mean by legal challenges from the perspective of consumer law we can take the example of the case filed against Nike in the State of California in the United States, where consumer protection laws exist that are intended to protect consumers from false advertising. These laws are being used to raise the issue of bad working conditions as evidence of false advertising, on the part of a multinational company that claims to take steps to ensure that good working conditions are the norm in the factories that produce their products. Following this international forum, a Legal Working Group was formed within the Clean Clothes Campaign, which is made up of members from each of the national campaigns. This group now focuses on following up on these legal initiatives. For more information on this area of activity within the CCC, please contact: CCC Legal Working Group, Vetements Propres, c/o Magasins du Monde-Oxfam, Bruxelles, Belgium firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CCC works to develop links with organisations in countries where garments are produced. This is done through exchange programs. For example, in 1997 we began a research project and exchange program with NGOs and trade unions in Central and Eastern Europe. This focused on Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania (a report on the field research on garment factories in those countries is available in English from the CCC). At the moment a new exchange program with Latin American organisations is being developed. CCC solidarity activities also take the form of international seminars. For example, the International Workshop of Independent Monitoring of Codes of Conduct, held in Belgium in May 1998, where participants, mostly from countries where garments are produced, explored the possibilities and limitations for NGOs, worker's support center, and trade unions at the local level to get involved in the implementation and verification of the monitoring process in the garment industry. Also in September 2004 an international seminar is being held to set an agenda for action for campaigning on informal labour in the garment industry. Together with representatives from countries with a large amount of informal garment labour, strategies are developed to improve their working conditions.
The urgent appeals system is yet another way in which international solidarity links are forged. The CCC frequently receives appeals from workers producing garments for multinationals. We take these requests, verify them and add to the initial information regarding the case in question using our local contacts in that country. A wide appeal for action is then posted to the network. Using this system, members of the Clean Clothes Campaigns are effectively mobilised to react to requests for action when worker's rights are violated. For more information on how this system works, contact the Urgent Appeals Working group via any of the CCC offices.