The New Conversations Project led a pre-forum partner session at the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 in Paris, France.
The session, Social Dialogue in the 21st Century, outlined NCP’s work on private regulation, freedom of association, and the obstacles to impactful social dialogue. NCP Project Associate, J. Lowell Jackson, presented research on the pitfalls of private regulation by NCP Academic Director, Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla’s forthcoming book as well as research mapping obstacles to freedom of association from the Social Dialogue Project.
The presentation began with analysis of the root causes underlying ineffective private regulation; in particular, the multiplicity of private regulation systems, high levels of audit unreliability, and decoupling between private regulation practices and outcomes. Following this, the presentation shared Kuruvilla’s empirical study demonstrating the positive relationship between the presence of a union and/or collective bargaining agreement and labor compliance. The presentation concluded with findings from the Social Dialogue Project’s mapping of freedom of association across ten target countries. View the presentation here.
Following the presentation, NCP Executive Director Anna Burger mediated an engaging discussion amongst panelists: Jenny Holdcroft, Assistant General Secretary, IndustriAll Global Union, Michael Bride, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, PVH, and Leslie Shull, Global Compliance Director, Delta Galil Industries.
Despite differing experiences with private regulation, panelists agreed with NCP’s arguments on the limitations of private regulation and, whether seeking to address these issues as a brand, supplier or global trade union, they all emphasized the need for better empirical evidence to support their assumptions of private regulation’s shortcomings.
The event was noteworthy in the liveliness and frankness of discussion that NCP’s Anna Burger deftly curated amongst panelists and audience members, who together reflected on potential alternatives to private regulation. One idea that received significant support from many in the room was the idea of brands redirecting funds currently deployed to auditing to labor inspectorates in production countries.
Discussions also dealt squarely with the power imbalances that undergird the entire garment industry, with participants observing that any system that seeks to have real impact for workers needs to address such imbalances directly. Some argued strongly that current private regulation systems skirt this critical issue and thereby are inevitably ineffectual.
As the event was one of the first on the Forum’s agenda, it helped to set the tone for remaining days in Paris. One participant captured well the views that many brought to the NCP team over ensuing days, ‘I heard that your session was the most incisive – and interesting – of the Forum. Next time I will be sure to attend.’