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Women, Brands and Labour Rights

June 19, 2013

MSN sponsors workshop on how, when and why to engage with brands

On May 22-24, 30 women leaders from 17 Central American and Mexican women’s and trade union organizations came together in El Salvador for a workshop on “Women, Brands and Labour Rights: how and when do we engage with brands?”

Participants in the three-day workshop, which was organized and facilitated by MSN, shared their experiences in attempting to engage with and/or campaign against international brands, retailers and manufacturers to seek solutions to violations of workers’ rights.

The workshop included a brand mapping exercise in which participants identified brands whose products are made in garment maquiladora factories in Central America and Mexico, as well as the various brand-name products they own.

The mapping exercise led into a discussion of the characteristics of the different kinds of brands, retailers and international manufacturers, the issues on which they are most vulnerable, different strategies and leverage points to move them to action, and brands’ histories of responding to requests for action on key worker and women’s rights issues.

The workshop methodology had participants working through four hypothetical cases of labour rights violations related to freedom of association, lack of workplace child care, precarious employment, and excessive hours of work in an unauthorized supplier factory. Workshop participants made decisions whether or not to engage with brands on the cases, role-played first meetings with the brands, and then – based on written responses from the brands – made decisions on how to proceed.

One highlight of the workshop was watching women labour rights leaders playing the roles of high-profile brands while others attempted to convince them to take action on specific cases of worker rights violations and/or systemic issues in supplier factories.

Participants also discussed experiences from other countries and regions with both campaigning and engagement on systemic issues, including the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a brand letter against abuse of short-term employment contracts in Peru, and efforts to enforce statutory workplace day care requirements in India.

Another systemic issue prioritized by workshop participants was the negative impacts of high production targets and long work shifts on workers’ health and incomes.

As follow-up to this initial workshop on brand engagement, MSN will be organizing one or two additional workshops in order to strengthen the practical and strategic capacities of Meso-American organizations so that they can more effectively engage with international companies and make informed decisions on when to engage, when to campaign, and when and how to combine the two strategies.

The workshop on brand engagement is part of a larger three-year project entitled “Constructing a women’s labour rights agenda linking women workers in factories, workshops and homes in the Americas,” which is being coordinated by Central American Women’s Network in Solidarity with Women Maquila Workers (REDCAM), Central American Women’s Fund (FCAM), Women of the South Fund, Alquimia Fund, Semillas Fund, Maria Elena Cuadra Women’s Movement (MEC), Confederation of Women Domestic Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean (CONLACTRAHO), and MSN.

The project is supported financially by Funding Leadership Opportunities for Women (FLOW) of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Relations, and has also received support from HIVOS.

Click here for workshop materials.

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