The ATNC Monitoring Network is composed of labour organisations from 12 Asian countries. Through joint campaigns, research, and solidarity, we challenge the power of transnational corporations in Asian economies.
ATNC Monitoring Network 2005 and Before
1. Another Monitoring Initiative?
Since 2002, the Asian transnational corporations (ATNC) monitoring network has been working to build up a regional network through which labour organisations in different Asian countries can pursue concrete solidarity actions to improve working conditions in ATNCs. The initial consensus among the groups involved in the ATNC Network was that there was an urgent need to overcome the limits of external monitoring, in the process of which workers play a very passive role and workers’ self-organising takes secondary importance. Our concern was that without pressure from workers actually working at the workplace and communities in the south, the improvement created by pressure from the consumer side is unlikely to be sustainable and subjected to even a slight change in market. We believed that pressuring brand-names to implement codes in supplying factories could bring positive effects only with the empowerment of workers in workplaces and workers’ communities. A basic framework of this approach was presented in a collection of articles: ‘A Critical Introduction to Corporate Codes of Conduct: Voices from the South’ that was the first ATNC publication in the early 2004.
2. Monitoring that is not anymore monitoring – 2003
Through our two years of experience in building a network, we engaged with workers, campaigners, unionists, and researchers in various fields and countries, with principle of empowering workers who themselves need to monitor their own work place on the basis of their collective power. Empowerment programmes, including training and education workshops, have been organised, focusing on a specific aspect of capacity that is needed to monitor labour conditions and assist organising attempts of workers in ATNCs. Training for campaigners in January 2004 provided the necessary skills for workers and campaigners, including company investigation, publicity, grassroots organising of workers in firms with labour disputes, international networking, and web-based campaign skills. Another training course, focusing on the better understanding of women workers’ rights in the context of the growing globalisation of supply chains was held in June 2004 by organising a workshop with workers from Asian-invested garment and leather producing firms in the mid-Java area of Indonesia. In these events, ATNC partners in different countries also played a role in bringing other labour organisations into the network’s activities, expanding the basis of the ATNC network in each country. As the project was implemented by a network that consists now of a dozen organisations with different specialities, we were able to cover many different issues, such as automobile and garment industries, women workers, as well as different aspects of monitoring activities, including research, campaigning, education, organising, and publication. Accordingly, the concept of ‘monitoring’ has been widened, from mere ‘watching’ and investigating to a more comprehensive one incorporating research, education and training, campaigning, and publications. This move was based on our understanding that existing ‘external’ monitoring activity does not necessarily lead to general improvement of labour rights; we need to organise pressure from and within the south. We also realised that we needed to widen contact with workers and grassroots organisations, breaking the barrier between unions and NGOs. However, our empowerment of workers remained to be a mere slogan without having a clear strategy other than ‘working more with grass-root’.
Triangular Solidarity – upside down – 2004
These points led us to review the way in which we engage with global labour campaign and to concretise our strategy in global campaign beyond the slogan of workers empowerment. In particular, ATNC Network engaged in ‘the Play Fair at the Olympics Campaign’, through which we attempted to develop new relations with global campaigning groups in Asia and Europe and we entered into partnership with a grassroots workers’ organisation by proposing a new strategy of triangular solidarity. The concept of this new framework has been circulated widely (see, Olympic campaign and after) in December 2003 (the most updated version of the paper has been presented in CCC labour forum in Brussels in April –‘Beyond the ‘Code’ Movement). Our involvement in campaigning and advocacy was related closely to the consensus having been built up in the ATNC network since the early 2003: to compensate for the limits of the current forms of external solidarity driven by the consumer movement, in which the development of a workers’ movement was increasingly dependent on external pressure on the basis of corporate codes of conduct while local organising initiatives took second priority. In our proposal, we pointed out as the most important problems of existing global campaign 1) the under-emphasis on workers’ participation, 2) lack of long-term strategy and 3) lack of serious attempt to improve the way in which labour groups from different backgrounds and regions can cooperate and develop solidarity. To overcome the problems, we needed a different framework as we argued:
“…we believe that this campaign, in the long run, would do the job only if it encourages, not merely allows, workers to participate from the beginning. In this sense, we believe that there is an important role to be played by workers, NGOs and unions in Asia…Publicising the issue during the Olympic is simply not enough to develop a step further our effort to enhance working conditions of millions of workers in Asia…We do not want to let this opportunity merely be another place to publicise the terrible conditions in which those ‘victims’ are producing… We urge all the partners to make this also as a good opportunity to ensure the workers that they can change the situation by organising themselves and that they are able to control their own conditions of work. What we have to focus on is not merely alerting consumers, but building up a firm solidarity network between those actually working on the production line, Asian NGOs and Unions pressuring manufacturer, and Nothern NGOs and Unions pressuring brand names.”(AMRC and TLC 2003)
Indeed, what distinguished Olympics campaign was that this time northern campaign organisations were trying to listen more to the voices from the south and target ‘freedom of association’ and the whole sector of sportswear industry through framework agreement. Asian groups gathered in a significant number and sent a message to the existing campaign framework, making sure that workers voices were heard and listening to the local voices became a must in global campaign in a real sense. In this sense, the strategy worked to a certain extent. Then, the major difference made in the process of Olympics campaign was that the campaign involved workers participation. However, workers participation here was understood as 1) The local organisations participating in the international campaign process, including events like torch rally 2) Collecting workers demands from workers organisations through diversified routes, so that workers demands are the bases of campaign demands 3) inviting labour organisations to the international and regional meetings. In the campaign process, the representation question was resolved by merely adding ICFTU to the CCC-Oxfam International alliance. The particular consumer-labour campaign we have now between consumers/western NGOs-TU and commercial capital is exactly a negotiation between two sides that are not grounded in productive social relations. One is not worker, the other is not employer. One has public image and finance capital as the main asset, the other reacts by focussing on hurting the company image by mobilising shaming tactics. Therefore, the Olymipics Campaign we arrived at then was just a mechanical improvement incorporating the principle of workers’ participation, however, not a qualitatively changed one. And indeed, the result of the Olympics Campaign was largely more dialogue between more sportswear companies with western campaign groups, rather than systematised, empowered negotiation between labour representatives and their employers in the sector of the region.
In the ATNC Monitoring Network’s annual conference in August 2004 and a post-Olympics evaluation among the network members, many reflections regarding the ATNC network’s role in a global campaign emerged. It has been pointed out that the limit of the triangle solidarity strategy within the development of OC was not that we could not construct the ‘triangle’ – we actually made it- but that we built up the triangle on the basis of the existing consumer campaign strategy. So the other two angles of the triangle were subsumed to another angle. In other words, the triangle was a quantitative sum of different movements under the framework. Later the framework was identified as ‘Action Alert Brand Targeting Campaign’ (AABTC). The Olympics campaign framework resembled the action alert mechanism in that it relies on the pressure primarily on brand names to exercise their leverage as buyers to improve working conditions, backed by mobilised consumer and, as developed well in the Olympics campaign, ‘complemented’ by collective demands from the workers organisations in the south. The participatory elements of the Olympics campaign strategy did not make the Olympics campaign into a qualitatively different one from the AABTC framework. The target was ‘collective’ brand names and the major platform was one of lobbying them to do more. It relies largely on the mobilisation of media attention. Most of all, no single action has been organised by workers at the workplace while no action has been taken to really hurt capital in the North anyway. What Olympics campaign did was to ‘develop’ the existing AABTC approach to the extreme by improving technical components, including participation from the south.
The nature of this particular historical form of labour campaign is that the ultimate pressure point is the brand names and suppliers’ compliance to the code of conduct of the buyers and it tends to target individual factories. The major short coming of the framework identified in the evaluation was its individualist approach in the sense that 1) it understands capital at the level of individual capital (or at best a group of individual capitals for both commercial and productive capital) and thereby fall back into the ‘universal leverage argument’ that is often taken as the only or the most important method and 2) the importance of building up a labour movement of the working class has been regarded as a mechanical part of the campaign rather than ‘the’ basis on which we develop solidarity campaign. Too often, we say that ‘this is the only leverage, the only strategy we have’. However, what if that is only a thing that we do, rather than the only method available? Aren’t we doing it rather because it is the only method that is proved (and imposed) by the powerful stakeholders, including business associations and shareholders?
Within this framework, the reality is always us being divided and ruled by companies fixing one factory not another, working with one group not another, and by the funding drive that funds only visible measurable programs and social dialogue with western stakeholders. The very limited success of AABTC in encouraging solidarity between workers in the south shows that building a campaign framework on individual success stories cannot be a ‘movement’ that essentially presupposes workers in general as the collective mass, the collective subjectivity of social change. The campaign as a moment of the labour movement has to be evaluated against whether we are more united by the strategy or weakened by it. In this sense, AABTC cannot be the ultimate solution since it is different from movement building.
New labour activism on which triangular solidarity develops: inside out – 2005 and present
The ultimate aim of triangle solidarity is not merely putting workers in the centre of the existing campaign mechanism, but changing the campaign mechanism into a new one in which workers activism in workplaces and communities naturally turns itself into a solidarity campaign with regional and international impact, not aiming at ‘manufacturing’ solidarity and negotiating on behalf of the workers, but encouraging solidarity to come out of the desperate need of the labour subject to work together with others who face the same obstacles to developing local activism. In other words, the aim was to develop an international solidarity on the basis of a movement building in the south. However, we failed to create or initiate a new qualitatively different alliance that breathes new life into the movements (the old trade union movement that is represented by the incompetent trade union internationalism as well as the humanistic consumer movement in the west) and to suggest an alternative movement building through which ‘grass-root activism’ turns into ‘solidarity-based campaign’ and vice versa. Our fault was to believe that the making up of the triangle (the up-side down strategy) would automatically change the framework itself. Our limit was that 1) we miscalculated the power relations between the local groups in the south and international campaign organisations 2) we did not have a clear roadmap of local movement building on which we could develop international and regional solidarity, and thereby 3) the ‘external strategy’ became a dominant strategy in ATNC network.
On the basis of this analysis, we moved into the second stage of network building, in which we emphasised a movement building of which the triangle solidarity needs to be a moment. Triangle solidarity becomes a framework with which we are working towards new and creative forms of solidarity (as well as concrete methods for it) between labour organisations, including trade unions, in Asia’s capital importing and exporting countries, to regulate mobile capital and boost grassroots organising in workplaces and community. We, largely through the annual research of the network in 2004 and the on-going annual research of 2005, identified the focal point of the basis of new movement building as 1) the increasing mobility of capital and 2) growing informalisation of labour in the region. This reflects the way in which capitalist social relations moves and recaptures labour in the region, on which the new movement building is to be based. The ATNC Monitoring network continues to focus on organising workers in the context of the growing unstable form of capitalist work and increasing capital mobility in the region. The second stage of network building was initiated in 2005 by launching a series of workers’ and organisers’ exchange programmes in which we shared organising initiatives in each country as well as a systematic way of bilateral and multilateral co-operation between different countries in the network. In the first exchange in the Philippines, unions and other labour organisations had a chance to compare organising methods in the face of swiftly changing labour relations in the region.
|Worker exchange 28-31 Jan 2005, Cavite, Philippines
Aim of the workshop was to develop a more comprehensive and concrete plan to build up a solidarity network among partners of the network. It was needed for ANTC Network to be grounded on the different organising initiatives and strategies ATNC’s partner organisations were participating. During the three days, discussion was focused on workplace and community organising methods and the way in which each of organisation support directly and indirectly the organising initiatives thorough the Network. The exchange participants pointed out that there is need to share organising methods in detail, devise creative regional campaign methods that tie different organising initiatives. In the meeting, it was suggested to have further worker exchange in the future, targeting particularly organising initiatives for irregular workers and workers in informal economy and communities. It was also agreed to collect detailed organising experiences from all participating organisations
In the annual network conference in 2005, the network reaffirmed two core strategies to achieve the goal: 1) directly supporting organisers particularly to organise flexibilising and informalising labour (empowerment solidarity) and 2) regulating increasingly mobile capital (campaign solidarity). Concrete methods to realise the strategies include producing information about methods to organising informal labour in the workplace and community (“organising flexible labour workshop [23-25, November, Borgor, Indonesia] ” and “electronic sector organisers exchange [19-20, November, Borgor, Indonesia]” were organised in this regard in Indonesia in November 2005), developing education and exchange programmes, developing (legal) methods to tackle run away capital, and systemising international solidarity campaign mechanism, which is based on workers solidarity rather than consumer leverage.
Picture: organising flexible labour workshop
As the network developed clearer aims and strategy, we succeeded in incorporating an increasing number of organisations in Asia and elsewhere. Now we have 20 member organisations in Asia, including: Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC, Hong Kong), Center for Workers Education and Leadership Training (CWELD, Philippines), Centre for Education and Communication (CEC, India), Taiwan Labor Information & Education Association (TLIEA, Taiwan), Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA, Hong Kong), Labour Action China (LAC, Hong Kong), Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS, Korea), National Coalition for Protection of Workers Rights (NCPWR, Philippines), Protest Toyota Campaign (PTC, Japan), Sedane Institute for Labour Information (LIPS, Indonesia), Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW, Philippines), Thai Labour Campaign (TLC, Thailand), Womyn’s Agenda for Change (WAC, Cambodia), Workers Assistance Center (WAC, Philippines), Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association (YCOWA, Thailand), Wahyu Social Foundation (YAWAS, Indonesia), KASBI (Indonesia),Transnationals Information Exchange – Asia (TIE Asia, Asia region), Alliance of Democratic Trade Unions (Thailand) and Centre for Labour Information Service and Training (Clist, Thailand)
Programmes developed in 2005 annual conference (27-29 August, Bangkok, Thailand)
We have clear aim: support organising of increasingly flexible and informal labour by supporting organisers (STRATEGY ONE: EMPOWERMENT SOLIDARITY) and regulating mobile capital (STRATEGY TWO: CAMPAIGN SOLIDARITY)
A. Empowerment solidarity – Supporting Organisers
1. One exchange on Flexibilisation
2. Training on data collection gathering
3. Training on line leaders
4. Electronics organisers’ meeting
B. Campaign solidarity – Regulating Capital Mobility
1. National Coalition Building
2. Sustainability of the network
3. Sub-committee on building solidarity system: Mikung, Tsai, Lek. Dae-oup – will bring the guide first and circulate and add. Lets concretize what we have here (above in the groups discussion). We will have systematic guide by 2006.
4. Sub-committee on campaign building: Shan, Carina, Irene, Sastro, WAC Cambodia. Will bring up the plan to develop regional campaign, including legality studies
Indeed, we need more partnerships with local, provincial, and national labour unions and NGOs, as well as other prominent networks of labour organisations on the basis of transparent and fraternal relationships. We have been developing close working relations with 11 other organisations, including trade unions, grassroots workers organisations, and international NGOs. These partners include, Committee for Asian Women (CAW, Asia region), Redmaque (Central America region), War on Want (UK), Oxfam Solidarity (Belgium), SPN (Indonesia), Working Women United (Thailand), and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU, Cambodia).
Outreaching of the network in 2005
ATNC network has been need to follow ATNCs wherever they go such as Africa, central America etc. From the beginning, we thought that we need to attempt to regulate these TNCs not only in Asia. One of the targets was Central America. In 2004, Maria –Lousia from REDMAQ participated in the annual conference and there was follow up with REDMAQ. Now we are at the stage of building stable relations. Reason to develop relations with C. America is because they have a high proportion or number of Asian capital producing garment for export to US market. But relatively small size of industrialisation, having only 350,000 workers in garment sector in CA. ATNC had 2 exchange programs with Redmaque: Oct 2004 and March 2005. The first one was on MFA phase out. Sub-regional researchers went to El Salvador and then Honduras, meeting workers and reiterating that there are labour groups in Asia who want to work with them. The network found that workers in central America tend to think that MFA phase out is about competition of one country against another. Delegation tried to convince that MFA was not a gift for development, and its phasing out doesn’t mean a Chinese invasion of Central America. Government and media was arguing that workers cannot ask too much, otherwise the factories will go to china. Women workers organisations in REDMAQ are focusing on community organising with principle of gender equality and how to organise protest in the workplace, which is very similar to WAC Cambodia.
Other exchange was on OSH. The network tried to bring workers but failed due to logistic problems. Instead, we brought ATNC researchers. We made some promises on support from Asia, particularly Korea, but face many problems such as language. We need get the basics first. For example, we need to have translation available between Asia and CA. We also need a long-term plan on how to develop relationship based on a specific issue rather than random. Two ideas were OSH or legal issues relating to factory closure. Another outreaching was Africa. Participating CCC’s workshop in Swaziland , network had opportunity to get more information about sizable investment from China, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia etc. The network came to have one contact with an African trade union, the ITG in Africa. They’re reporting cases of labor rights abuses by Taiwanese etc. Starting with information exchange, we hope to build from a solidarity link. There were 2 things that people expected of network. 1. How do East Asian nations deal with factory closure and move outs in the 1980s and 90s? 2. How can they link with Asian network in the area of finding a more systematic approach to deal with closures in both continents? Is it possible to have a legal approach or a systematized way to deal with factory closures?
Within this wider coalition, we will work with groups at different levels that recognise 1) the centrality of labour in understanding the contradictory development of contemporary society and identifying subversive social forces for change, 2) the importance of workers self-organising to bring changes, 3) the importance of supporting organising initiated by workers in non-traditional forms of capitalist work (e.g., informal workers) and by under-empowered groups (e.g., women workers), 4) the importance of trade unions as a major (but not exclusive) vehicle for change, and 5) the importance of international co-operation with the labour and wider social movement that challenges the expanded contradiction of capitalist development and pursues alternative development, not on the basis of meta-analysis and grand narratives, but on the basis of a clear common agenda and practical aims.
The strategies of ATNC network looks as if they are nothing particular. One might say we come back to where we started, drawing a circle at the end of which lies the mundane emphasis on organising. However, a careful reading of the history presented above suggests that it was a continuous process of questioning what we took for granted. In doing so, we have been negating strategies that was given to us as ‘the’ strategy of the time. Once we negated an absolute strategy, we developed a new strategy out of the critique and engagement, however at the same time integrating the previous one into a new framework as a moment and therefore giving a new basis to doing the same old tactics, by negating monitoring as watching and turning it into more comprehensive monitoring that is not any longer monitoring, by negating existing campaign framework with triangle solidarity which again is negated and turned into a moment of movement building. As of 2006, we have a vision to organise workers in the context of the growing unstable form of capitalist work and increasing capital mobility in the region. We defined clear core strategies of empowerment solidarity and campaign solidarity. We are developing concrete tools with which we realise the strategies. Although it might look as if the network is doing exactly the same things on the same principle as three years ago, the network is developing into somewhat qualitatively different form, without loosing diversity and dynamics. Where the network reached after circular-looking development, each of the strategies we experimented and negated has been given new meanings and new grounds through our critical engagements. The network is not repeating the same thing in a circle, but in the process of a spiral development, the each circle of which is taking different dimensions and natures at every step. Indeed, the network is young and immature. However, as long as our critical approach and dynamic engagement continue to lead us, the second stage of network building will have a widely open future.
Updated on 17th February 2006