The Indonesian Labour Rights Project

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  OXFAM ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP CASE STUDY   By Duncan Green From 1997–2013, Oxfam Australia’s Indonesian Labour Rights Project (ILRP) worked to help achieve ‘sustainable livelihoods for workers’ in factories in Indonesia that form part of global supply chains for major sportswear brands. As a result of sustained campaigns, the world’s largest sportswear brands, such as Nike and Adidas, now take workers’ rights more seriously than a great majority of other transnational companies, including smaller sportswear companies. The ILRP illustrates an important aspect of Oxfam’s work on active citizenship – supporting the rights and agency of people in the workplace. THE INDONESIAN LABOUR RIGHTS PROJECT    BACKGROUND From the early 1990s, public interest grew in the conditions facing sportswear workers. Individuals, campaign groups and journalists began to expose the low wages and long working hours experienced by sportswear workers, primarily in Asia. Nike products were a particular focus. Throughout the mid-1990s and into the 2000s, groups across the globe, including the Clean Clothes Campaign, United Students Against Sweatshops, Oxfam and The Canadian Catholic Organisation for Development and Peace, publicly pressured Nike to improve conditions for the workers who made the company’s goods. As global pressure on Nike grew, and local workers and trade unions spoke out, the company started to take more public responsibility for the conditions of workers in its supply chain. WHAT HAPPENED? The ILRP used a combination of country-level capacity-building and convening/brokering conversations between supplier companies, workers and others to build trust and find collective solutions. In addition to supporting collective solutions to common problems and grievances inside factories, the ILRP also provided campaign support to individual factory cases. When unions were experiencing harassment (dismissal, suspension) by management in sportswear factories in Indonesia and these unions had exhausted internal remediation efforts in the factory, then the ILRP would amplify their campaign to international audiences and leverage consumer pressure on the sportswear brands to improve respect for union rights in the factory. These factory campaigns, as well as a general push on the whole industry, were backed up by international press and consumer campaigns in Australia and with global partners like the Clean Clothes Campaign. Subsequent evaluations suggest that the ILRP made a significant contribution to workers’ campaigns for their labour rights to be upheld within sportswear factories in Indonesia. BUDGET The budget was an average A$230,000 per year (including three full-time positions and programme costs from July 2007 to June 2013). Costs prior to 2007 were smaller, with less staffing from 1997 to 2007. MONITORING, EVALUATION, LEARNING The programme was evaluated in 2006 (a self-evaluation with extensive interviews with partners, companies, academics, activists); in 2011 (as a contribution to an internal Oxfam  Australia Advocacy review that included its work on labour rights); and in 2013 (through a consultant evaluation of Indonesia programme).  3   THEORY OF CHANGE Power Analysis The principal power relations can be summarised as: 1. Blockers/sources of power working against the ILRP objectives:   The economic power of brands over suppliers and supplier companies over workers. The dominant business model of transnational companies is fast, flexible and cheap production to a high quality. Buying companies put pressure on their suppliers, who in turn put pressure on their workforce, resulting in widespread labour rights violations and undermining of the effectiveness of codes of conduct and the application of national and international laws and standards. Buying companies have previously tried to distance themselves from any responsibility for the human rights of workers in their supply chains. Without buying companies recognising their obligation to the workers who make their products, there was no reason for factory management to feel obliged to uphold workers’ human rights within the workplace.   In Indonesia, the social power of men over women (including within the trade union movement and frequent sexual harassment by male supervisors of female workers). Within trade unions women were not encouraged to take on leadership roles within work places and within unions. Sexual discrimination by male factory supervisors added to other pressures on women in the workplace. There were also cases of discrimination against pregnant workers.   Parts of the trade union movement suffer from the legacy of the period of the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia, notably in the form of corporatist trade unions aligned to particular political interests rather than to those of their members. Some unions continue to actively cooperate with factory managers to suppress worker activism. 2. Drivers/sources of power working in favour of the ILRP objective:   The power of consumers and active citizens in Australia and other richer countries writing letters, using (more recently) social media and public protest to put pressure on companies – this is a key factor in making companies taking responsibility for workers in their supply chains. Companies do not want to risk the reputation of their brand.   A growing women’s movement in Indonesia. Women workers and women in their homes were seeking to change power dynamics and take leadership roles within their workplaces. Many of these women have been actively involved in factory campaigns as well as broader initiatives like the Freedom of Association Protocol.   An active (albeit fragmented) trade union movement emerging after the fall of President Suharto in 1998. Garment and footwear unions have successfully come together in recent years.   An organized and motivated international movement and network of activist groups, international non-government organizations, international unions and community    groups that have campaigned and strategized together as well as with Indonesian groups, through processes like the Play Fair Alliance. Change Hypothesis Oxfam’s hypothesis was that empowerment of workers, particularly women, requires the removal of impediments that prevent individuals from acting. These include personal factors that deter activism, such as the need to work long hours to make more money, fear of harassment and lack of knowledge of their rights. Obstacles also include weak enforcement of legal requirements by both company and public officials. The choice of Indonesia was based on a combination of two factors. Firstly, it was the largest sportswear producer that has good laws on freedom of association compared to the other two countries that have a large volume of sportswear production, China and Vietnam. In addition to a vibrant trade union movement, it therefore had strategic significance for the brands, and an ‘implementation gap’ between policy and practice that provided an ideal campaign target. Secondly, Indonesia provided a way of demonstrating the kinds of problems and issues that workers face globally in Nike and Adidas supply chains. Groups and unions in other countries have watched the campaign in Indonesia with interest. Oxfam’s change strategy The ILRP grew out of Oxfam’s campaigns on the practices of Nike in the mid-1990s. This led to looking at other brands and forming alliances with organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign, and the formation of the Play Fair Alliance. Although this work persuaded the global brands to greatly improve their policies, they often were not being implemented in the factories. The ILRP campaign, Indonesian unions and international campaign and union groups sought to address this weakness. The 2009 meeting between the groups represented the beginning of a new, more deliberately collaborative way of working with brands, suppliers, and Indonesian groups, looking at the concrete problems at country level and developing practical solutions together with the aim of preventing freedom of association (FOA) violations before they occurred. That shift also involved the Indonesian trade unions being at the centre of any strategy, with Oxfam playing a supporting role both at national and international level. A 2013 evaluation concluded: Without Oxfam, the links between the unions and the international networks would be more limited, and without Oxfam, establishing and maintaining a relationship of peers between the brands and the unions, which are structurally in opposition, would be difficult… No other parties to the talks had the stature of Oxfam, or could bring a sense of non-partisan integrity for such a process (local NGOs were seen as too pro-union in a way that Oxfam is not, despite being pro-labour).  A further aspect of Oxfam’s ‘value-adding’ was its ability to bridge between local organizing, national convening and brokering, and international campaigns. The balance of local-to-global evolved constantly, in order to keep up momentum for progress in the negotiations and the factories. Oxfam’s change strategy combined four components to strengthen the position of workers,
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