Using a code of conduct to protect labor rights in the garment industry

The Netherlands-based Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) engages industry, retailers and consumers to promote the rights of garment workers.

The CCC is a consortium of European trade unions and human rights and development organizations formed in the Netherlands in 1990 as a result of increased awareness of poor working conditions in factories worldwide. The CCC is attempting to change this situation by targeting the garment and sportswear industries and raising consumer awareness.

The CCC uses the principles set out by the International Labor Organization as a guideline for their own agenda. Using these principles, the CCC has created its own “Code of Labor Practices for the Apparel Industry Including Sportswear.” The Code of Labor Practices addresses the following issues:

  • freedom of association for workers;
  • the right to bargain collectively;
  • no discrimination of any kind;
  • no forced or slave labor;
  • a minimum employment age of 15;
  • safety and health measures;
  • a working week of 48 hours maximum and voluntary overtime of 12 hours maximum;
  • a right to a living wage;
  • establishment of the employment relationship (contract).

The CCC chooses major retailers and brands as the focus for their campaigns because they represent the strongest presence in the garment and sportswear and therefore set the standards for that industry. By focusing on these few companies the CCC hopes that they will be able to create change in many others. The organization asks retailers to adopt the above Code of Labor Practices. In addition, it asks companies to create a monitoring system to ensure that these standards are being met.

In order to create more incentive for retailers to follow international standards and respect human rights in garment production, the CCC engages consumers. Studies done in the United States and in Europe show that consumers are not only interested in the quality of the products they purchase but also the work behind the brand names. Companies have more and more reason to be concerned about how they are perceived. To this end, the CCC distributes its information on factory working conditions and workers’ rights through newsletters, the internet, and research publications.

The code is the CCC’s tool to get companies to follow international labor standards and is a clear way to communicate the standards that the CCC would like to see implemented. The organization believes that it is an effective way to raise awareness, pressure companies and to open the doors for further laws to be passed that promote the rights of garment workers.

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