2009-2011: IKEA and Household Retailers Abet Union Busting at Turkish Supplier

published 30-01-2013 11:45, last modified 30-01-2013 13:24
Retail giants IKEA, Walmart and Carrefour, among others, have conveniently turned a blind eye to blatant cases of union busting at Menderes Tekstil (MT). These brands all source from Menderes Tekstil and have maintained their silence regarding labour rights violations and dangerous working conditions.

Issue

Retail giants IKEA, Walmart and Carrefour, among others, have conveniently turned a blind eye to blatant cases of union busting at Menderes Tekstil (MT). These brands all source from Menderes Tekstil and have maintained their silence regarding labour rights violations and dangerous working conditions.

Action

In May 2009, the CCC urged support for TEKSIF the Turkish textile workers union that actively seeks to improve working conditions and safety at MT by writing letters to the major sourcing brands such as IKEA, Walmart, Carrefour, Otto, Ibena, and Kohl’s to demand fair working conditions in their supply chains.

Picket line at Menderes Tekstil

Background

Menderes Tekstil is located in southwestern Turkey. It produces bed linen for both the home market and export. Over the past few years, four MT workers have died of work-related injuries. In the most recent accident on 20 November 2008, one employee died when he fell into the funnel of a coal boiler. Workers reported that MT had never installed any safety measures around the boiler to prevent such an accident.

After the tragic accident, MT reportedly ordered three co-workers to climb into the funnel to retrieve the body. Again, no safety measures were enforced and the three wore no protective gear against toxic boiler gases and ended up suffering from respiratory poisoning and had to seek treatment at a nearby hospital.

In a tragic incident that occurred in February 2003, Habib Basisci was producing textiles for IKEA when a machine malfunctioned and severely injured his left arm. It took a lengthy court case that lasted several years before MT accepted responsibility for this disabling work-related accident and compensated Basisci, illustrating the lack of responsibility of both the brands and factory management.

In March 2008, TEKSIF began organising MT workers. Management called union leaders into their offices one by one and offered them the choice of either renouncing their union membership or being sacked, which violates Turkish law prohibiting dismissals or transfers as retribution for union organising.

MT has shown no indication of aborting its anti-union tactics. It continues to threaten union members with enforced union renunciation. In some cases, workers have been reassigned to new jobs for which they were not trained or qualified. If they refuse to renounce their union membership or refuse a transfer, MT reportedly harasses the workers’ relatives.

In August 2008, workers and union representatives began striking outside the factory’s gates for acceptance of their union. The strike lasted 190 days but MT has continued to harass union members, refusing to negotiate with the union.

In 2008, several court cases of wrongfully dismissed employees are still pending. However, the judicial process is very sluggish and it could take years before there is a verdict.

Brand Responses

Mat’s major clients have all been aware of the problems at MT for some time now. But their chief strategy has been total denial of Mat’s workplace issues. Some brands have conducted their own investigations but have refused to share results. Meanwhile, others promise to take action but end up dragging their feet and evading responsibility, showing that the brands have no intention of living up to even their own codes of conduct.

The CCC and its trade union partners have approached IKEA, MT’s most important client, on numerous occasions, but the home furnishings giant has never shown much initiative in taking measures to resolve the issues. IKEA did commission an audit to investigate the working conditions and concluded that there were no major problems involving working conditions.

The CCC, however, was never shown a copy of the audit report and so could not monitor the actual outcomes. The CCC has raised serious concerns in the past about the use of industry-commissioned audit reports that often lead to biased conclusions. The situation at MT remains at odds with IKEA’s own code of conduct.

In 2008, the CCC urged MT’s chief clients to leverage their influence to demand that MT enter into direct dialogue with TEKSIF.

Carrefour (France and Belgium) and Otto, Ibena and Horizonte (Germany) initially responded to the CCC’s appeals, promising to address the issues. The CCC and the International Labor Rights Forum also approached US-based brands Walmart, Target and Kohl’s all of whom managed to stonewall, avoiding any commitment to a course of action regarding their supply-chain responsibilities, while promising to introduce measures as a way of buying time rather than actually dealing with workplace problems.

Meanwhile, the UK-based household retailer Mothercare took some initial constructive steps to addressing the issues, but has failed to act with any sense of urgency.

The CCC and TEKSIF reiterated their appeal for “Urgent Action,” demanding that MT and its clients ensure improvement of MT’s hazardous working conditions, violations of Turkish labour laws and international labour standards and the codes of conduct of the factory and its clients.

They also demanded immediate reinstatement with compensation and back wages for workers involved in court cases against MT contesting their dismissal due to their union activities; acknowledgement of TEKSIF as a legitimate union and their right to represent MT workers; engage in negotiations with TEKSIF; and review of occupational health and safety measures at both factory plants, as well as a review of certain disciplinary and grievance mechanisms.

Moreover, they demanded that IKEA live up to its moral obligations as stated in its IWAY code of conduct. IKEA must also promise to not abandon MT or reduce its orders at MT as a response to labour issues. A “cut-and-run” strategy is not an appropriate or effective response, and would reflect unfavourably on IKEA’s current social responsibility profile.

Outcome

This case has been closed for the time being mainly because TEKSIF has been unable to effectively follow up on the issues. TEKSIF has issued no updates of their follow-up strategy.