Asia Floor Wage Alliance recognises Freedom of Association (FOA) as a central condition for the assertion and negotiation of other rights. Although it is important for employers to recognize the workers’ right to organise, without substantive conditions being established for accessing this right, recognition in itself rarely leads to unionization and collective bargaining. Garment workers who have organised over the years in numerous, courageous ways face severe repression, retaliation and discrimination.

AFWA’s position is that denial of FOA, that keeps garment workers in a state of fear, isolation and disempowerment, is endemic to the business model of fast fashion and brands’ purchasing practices. AFWA recognizes the critical importance of regulation of multinational companies, which fall outside national legal frameworks.

In 2016, the AFWA played an active role in the ILO’s first tripartite discussion on the “regulation of global supply chain” at the ILC in Geneva. AFWA released three global supply chain reports based on four countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India). It resulted in global media coverage and became part of the tripartite discussions on global supply chains at the ILC. AFWA took a delegation of Asian representatives to engage in this tripartite discussion.

Joint Employer Liability Legal Strategy: Holding Global Apparel Brands Legally Liable for Labour Rights Violations in their Supply Chains in Asia

The central objective of the Joint Employer Liability (JEL) strategy is the articulation of a legal paradigm within global garment supply chains to challenge the false assumption that brands are merely ‘buyers’ from Asian garment markets. In doing so, it responds to the widespread notion that labour and human rights violations in supply chains are fueled by the lack of laws to protect workers in Asian production countries.

It uses labour legislations and constitutional protections available in these countries to argue that brands are joint employers of workers in their supply chains, along with their suppliers, and are therefore, jointly liable for labour and human rights violations occurring in their supplier factories.

The JEL strategy is intended as a production country complement to due diligence legislations and mechanisms being discussed in the home countries of brands. It activates local labour law enforcement mechanisms and sensitizes authorities within production countries to identify and respond to labour and human rights violations in the supply chains led by global brands.

It does so by arguing that legal liability must not be limited to Asian suppliers facing fierce competition and razor-thin margins as a result of the structural features of apparel supply chains, and therefore, lower ability to comply with labour protective laws.