Helsinki (09.12.1999 - Juhani Artto) The 19,000-member Textile and Garment Workers' Union in Finland is the first European trade union in this industry to introduce a code of conduct in its collective agreement. This is an important step forward in enforcing the 1997 agreement reached by the industry's European labour market partners Euratex and ETUC:TCL.

In the 1997 agreement the partners called on their members actively to encourage enterprises and workers in the European textile and clothing industry to comply with the following principles in ILO Conventions:

  • Forced labour, slave labour and prison labour are to be prohibited (Conventions 29 and 105).
  • The right of workers to form and join a trade union, as well as the right of employers to organise, shall be recognised. Employers and workers may negotiate freely and independently (Conventions 87 and 98).
  • Child labour shall be forbidden. Children under 15 or younger than the age of completion of compulsory schooling in the countries concerned shall not be admitted to work (Convention 138).
  • Workers shall be employed on the basis of their ability to work and not on the basis of their race, individual characteristics, creed, political opinion or social origin (Convention 111). The President of the Finnish union, Auli Korhonen, demands that all the companies adopt this code of conduct. "In Finland and elsewhere, enterprises have to direct their attention to all stages of the production chain."

Refering to the USA, where many companies have adopted codes of conduct, Korhonen expects European enterprises to follow the U.S. practise. Auditing must be done by authorities from outside of the industry, Korhonen maintains. Acceptable products must be endorsed with universal signs. "Consumers must be confident that enterprises act according to their publicly declared principles. Korhonen regards the SA 2000 -standard as an acceptable method which the most active companies in Finland already know well.

She notes that ethical guidelines play a role in enterprise competitiveness which is equal to the guidelines on environmental impacts and attitudes towards workforce equality.

Before the WTO Seattle Conference debacle, the Finnish union demanded that the Finnish representatives work for the inclusion of basic ILO norms in global trade rules.

Speaking recently in Helsinki, the Secretary General of the ETUF:TCL, Patrick Itschert, said that the trade union movement does not demand that the textile and clothing industry be relocated back from the developing countries. Instead, the trade union movement urges the WTO to adopt a social dimension. "Free trade is a good thing, but without the social dimension it creates problems", Itschert said.

He emphasised that progress will occur in small steps. To push child workers out of the factories and into the streets does not help the developing countries.

"There must be social programmes which help the world to eliminate child labour. Schools and support for parents are necessary, for example, when children leave working life in order to go to school", Itschert observed.

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