For social protection to be effective it must empower women, advance workers’ rights and redistribute wealth

For social protection to be effective it must empower women, advance workers’ rights and redistribute wealth

There is no doubt that social protection can contribute to creating an enabling environment in which workers can improve their livelihoods and ensure stable incomes and safe work. This is especially important for workers engaged in small-scale fisheries and agriculture, and for marginal farmers, informal sector workers and home-based workers. The greater the physical, social and economic vulnerability, the greater the need for social protection. Yet at the same time, the greater the physical, social and economic vulnerability, the less access these workers have to social protection. This inverse correlation between vulnerability and access to social protection is prevalent in all sectors and is especially evident among informal sector workers and migrant workers.

Calling for more social protection is not a solution in and of itself. Taking the example of the fisheries sector, social protection can be effective in ensuring access to rights and improving the livelihoods and wellbeing of fishers, farmers and fisheries workers. But its effectiveness depends on rights, process and resource allocation.

The direct involvement of women workers in decision-making is essential for social protection to be effective in reducing poverty and improving livelihoods. The involvement of women cannot be symbolic or passive (women as targets of social protection instruments). It is not based on the inclusion of gender perspectives and gender-based approaches alone, but the inclusion of women themselves. Women workers must be able to collectively represent themselves in the workplaces, farms and communities – and at all levels of decision-making, planning and implementation – for social protection to be effective and truly equitable.

Women will ensure that social protection is meaningful and effective through their direct, collective representation in decision-making in the allocation and distribution of public resources; and continuous assessment and monitoring to ensure transparency, fairness and reach. If decision-making is dominated by men, then not only is there a greater likelihood that social protection will be ineffective and limited in its scope and reach, there is also a greater likelihood of discrimination, abuse and corruption. The erosion of existing social protection programs due to corruption remains a serious challenge in the region.

Adding more resources for social protection to broken, unaccountable and opaque institutions simply sets us up for failure. While new technologies could play an important role, fundamental institutional reforms are needed. The most important of which is the direct, collective participation of women workers in decision-making. In India, the most effective use of social protection under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) occurs where independent, democratic unions led by women are involved in organizing, policy intervention and decision-making. These unions ensure that women secure their rights under NREGA, while also engaging with local authorities to ensure the appropriate, fair and effective use of NREGA resources.

The direct, collective involvement and representation of women in decision-making assumes that women can exercise the  right to freedom of association guaranteed under ILO Convention No 87. (Also important are ILO Convention Nos 11, 141 and 177 on the right of agricultural workers to organize; rural workers’ organizations; and home-based workers). Women can combine together in an organization of their own choosing, represent their collective interests and engage in collective bargaining and decision-making. Any restrictions on freedom of association or barriers that impede women’s access to these enabling rights prevents their involvement, which in turn undermines the effectiveness of social protection policies and programs.

Restrictions on or impediments to the ability of women workers, farmers and fishers to organize themselves also exacerbate the economic and social vulnerability of women. This leads to increased exploitation and abuse – including trafficking and forced labour – which renders social protection both inadequate and meaningless.

In terms of the allocation of resources, social protection should not indirectly subsidize the large-scale commercial fisheries industry. The poverty wages of fisheries workers on vessels and in factories perpetuates poverty in their communities – communities often located in and around commercial fisheries operations. On September 3, 2022, the 4th National Fishworkers Congress in the Philippines established the link between building fisheries workers’ power and a sustainable fishing industry. In this context the Fishworkers Congress identified poverty, debt and lack of access to human rights (food and nutrition, housing, education and health care) as the direct consequence of poverty wages in the private commercial fisheries sector. Orchestrated efforts by employers to prevent union organizing, and repeated violations of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining guaranteed under ILO Conventions Nos 87 and 98, prevent fisheries workers from collectively bargaining to secure better wages and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Collective bargaining in the private commercial fisheries sector to achieve better wages and livelihoods must remain a priority and government financed social protection should not inadvertently subsidize an industry that suppresses rights and perpetuates poverty wages.

Serious and widespread violations of workers’ health and safety rights in the fisheries sector contravene ILO Convention No 155, which is now a fundamental convention. Several members of the fishing community participating in the 4th National Fishworkers Congress in the Philippines described the serious injuries suffered by fishers in the private commercial fishing sector due to unsafe work practices. Unsafe work causes greater injury, long-term illness and inability to work, which in turn increases the burden on social protection programs.

In the Maldives, for example, our affiliate BKMU has the capacity to negotiate catch prices that will increase the incomes and livelihoods of fishers and their families and communities, including migrant workers. However, the new Industrial Relations Bill currently before the parliament threatens to undermine BKMU’s ability to organize and collectively bargain. In the absence of collective bargaining rights, buying companies maintain a monopsony and can manipulate catch prices and reduce the incomes of BKMU members. This results in greater poverty and debt in the communities dependent on these incomes. Turning to social protection is not the answer. The answer in the commercial fisheries sector lies in the exercise of collective bargaining rights to redistribute profit, not the redirection of public resources through social protection.

Social protection is needed most in artisanal fisheries, small-scale extensive aquaculture, the informal sector and home-based work, as well as coastal and inland fishing communities experiencing climate vulnerability. It is a vital part of the strategies needed to urgently address child labour in artisanal fisheries and aquaculture.

The vulnerability of coastal fishing communities to climate change, biodiversity loss and declining aquatic species is a serious concern throughout the region. This has a significant impact on livelihoods and incomes as well as local food security. The effectiveness of social protection depends on a more coherent and comprehensive policy approach that integrates environmental protection and rights. This includes the right of fisherfolk to collective representation in decision-making and the right to food and nutrition. It also needs action by governments to stop industrial pollution killing their livelihoods.

The question of resources also relates to the prevalence of government subsidies for large-scale commercial fishing, especially distant water fishing (DWF). DWF has a significant impact on scarce aquatic resources and threatens to reduce the availability of ocean caught fisheries. This in turn threatens the livelihoods and food security of fishing communities. If left unaddressed, government subsidies for large-scale commercial fishing and DWF fleets will create greater poverty, debt and food insecurity in coastal fishing communities and especially among traditional and indigenous fisherfolk. This then creates the (avoidable) need for more social protection. Yet the effectiveness of this social protection will be continuously undermined as long as the extractive subsidies for the commercial fishing industry continues.

It is in this sense that social protection to secure an equitable “blue transformation” in the fisheries sector requires a significant reallocation of public resources and recognition of workers’ rights. We not only need to increase government funded social protection, but to reduce subsidies for economic activities detrimental to the environment, livelihoods and incomes, and food security. In addition to this, social protection must be financed through a greater allocation of public resources, which places priority on reduced support for extractive or destructive industries, and increased corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy.

Ultimately social protection must redistribute wealth if any transformation is to be truly equitable and sustainable.


Setelah 20 tahun mega-profit Kecap Bango, Unilever masih menolak memberikan upah yang layak

Setelah 20 tahun mega-profit Kecap Bango, Unilever masih menolak memberikan upah yang layak

Dua puluh tahun setelah mengakuisisi brand Kecap Bango dari kecap manis yang sangat popular di Indonesia, Unilever terus meraup keuntungan yang signifikan dari tahun ke tahun. Cash flow dari brand lokal ini sangat sinifikan sehingga menjadikan Kecap Bango sebagai salah satu brand global teratas di Unilever. Meskipun demikian, lebih dari 700 pekerja di satu-satunya pabrik yang memproduksi Kecap Bango hingga saat ini masih ditolak haknya untuk menegosiasikan upah yang layak.

Setelah dengan pelan-pelan menyusun usaha joint venture  dengan cara memberikan Unilever kendali penuh dan tidak ada tanggung jawab, perusahaan mengklaim bahwa mitra bisnis lokal mereka PT. AMB bertanggung jawab penuh atas tawar-menawar upah. Tetapi system pembayaran Borongan yang dibuat oleh Unilever di bawah lisensi manufakturnya membatasi anggaran yang tersedia untuk biaya tenaga kerja per produk. PT. AMB juga membayar biaya sewa anak perusahaan Unilever untuk segala hal mulai dari mesin dan peralatan hingga perabot kantor setiap bulan. PT. AMB terlilit hutang, hingga meminjam uang dari koperasi karyawan.

Selama lebih dari 8 tahun menajemen lokal telah mengatakan kepada serikat pekerja bahwa mereka tidak memiliki kemampuan untuk menyesuaikan anggaran untuk biaya tenaga kerja tanpa penyesuaian anggaran dari Unilever untuk lisensi manufaktur. Akhirnya pada Juli 2022, Unilever merespons hal tersebut. Namun, alih-alih membayar produk Kecap Bango yang dibuat oleh pabrik dengan cara menjamin upah yang layak, Unilever secara sepihak memperkenalkan perhitungan Living Wage yang membenarkan upah rendah yang selama ini terjadi.

Ketika 680 anggota SPMKB FSBMM yang berafiliasi dengan IUF melanjutkan aksi protes mereka, majemen Unilever malah menjaga jarak dan hanya mengawasi aksi protes tersebut serta lepas tangan terhadap upah dan kondisi kerja yang terjadi. Sementara itu, Unilever terus melakukan pendekatan langsung terhadap keuntungan yang terus mengalir.

Unilever memberi tau para pekerja brand yang membuat salah satu produk teratas dari 28 Sustainable Living Brands, bahwa seragam mereka adalah bagian dari Living Wage mereka

Unilever memberi tau para pekerja brand yang membuat salah satu produk teratas dari 28 Sustainable Living Brands, bahwa seragam mereka adalah bagian dari Living Wage mereka

Selama beberapa tahun lebih dari 680 pekerja yang memproduksi Kecap Bango produk  Unilever, telah memperjuangkan hak untuk merundingkan upah yang adil. Pada tahun 2021, para pekerja melakukan aksi protes menuntut upah layak. Pada Juli 2022, Unilver merespons dengan formula Living Wage global. Menurut Unilever, Living Wage meliputi Seragam Kerja, Piknik Perusahaan (family gathering), BPJS Kesehatan, BPJS Ketenagakerjaan, THR, bahkan Jaminan Kecelakaan Kerja.

Sehingga akibatnya, semua pengeluaran perusahaan ini, termasuk iuran pemberi kerja untuk BPJS Kesehatan, BPJS Ketenagakerjaan, THR yang diwajibkan oleh pemerintah melalui undang-undang, merupakan kontribusi Unilever terhadap kemampuan pekerja untuk memenuho kebutuhan keluarganya. Hal ini menyisakan upah yang sebenarnya dibutuhkan untuk memenuhi kebutuhan keluarganya dan hal tersebut membuat upah actual yang dibutuhkan untuk memenuhi biaya hidup, jauh lebih rendah karena Unilever yakin telah berkontribusi pada biaya hidup tersebut dengan seragam dan family gathering.

Produk yang dibuat oleh pekerja di Pabrik Kecap Bango menghasilkan begitu banyak kekayaan bagi Unilever dan terdaftar dalam 28 Sustainable Living Brands global. Namun, brand tersebut tidak memberikan kontribusi apapun untuk memastikan pekerja dan keluarganya mendapatkan hidup yang layak. Living Wage yang dimiliki Unilever saat ini diberlakukan secara sepihak kepada para pekerjanya di Kecap Bango dan sama sekali tidak memenuhi biaya hidup pokok mereka.

Sementara Unilever mengklaim formula Living Wage ini bersifat global, dengan tidak adanya bukti yang menunjukkan bahwa perhitungan Living Wage untuk pekerja Unilever di Eropa, termasuk family gathering, seragam atau tunjangan sosial dan asuransi kesehatan, bonus tahunan atau jaminan kecelakaan kerja.

Pada saat yang sama, Unilever mempromosikan penggunaan Living Wage yang dihitung oleh Fair Wage Network. Perusahaan mengklaim bahwa Living Wage ditentukan untuk setiap lokasi secara global berdasarkan penilaian biaya hidupnya. Namun tidak ada kejelasan tentang bagaimana biaya hidup yang dinilai dengan cermat menggunakan formula Living Wage yang mencakup Seragam, Family Gathering, dan bonus tahunan. Jawaban yang paling mungkin adalah bahwa rumus Living Wage hanya membantu perusahaan menghasilkan angka yang cukup dekat dengan angka Fair Wage (upah wajar) untuk biaya hidup. Masalahnya adalah seragam, piknik (family gathering), BPJS Ketenagakerjaan dan Jaminan Kecelakaan Kerja tidak membantu pekerja dan keluarganya memenuhi biaya hidup mereka.

Tanggapan dan penggunaan perhitungan Living Wage Unilever yang tidak adil dan tidak rasional serta sama sekali tidak ada hubungannya dengan biaya hidup dan kebutuhan keluarga sangat membuat frustasi. Sehingga para pekerja terus melanjutkan aksi protesnya.

After 20 years of Bango mega-profits, Unilever still refuses decent wages

After 20 years of Bango mega-profits, Unilever still refuses decent wages

Twenty years after acquiring the Bango brand of a massively popular black soybean sauce in Indonesia, Unilever continues to rake in significant profits year on year. The cash flow from this local product is so significant that Bango is among Unilever’s top global brands. Despite this, over 700 workers at the sole factory producing Bango are still denied their right to negotiate decent wages.

Having carefully structured the joint venture in a way that gives Unilever full control and no responsibility, the company claims that the local business partner AMB is solely responsible for wage bargaining. But the piece-rate payment system set up by Unilever under its licensed manufacturing limits the available budget for labour costs per product. AMB also pays Unilever subsidiaries rentals fees for everything from the machinery and equipment to office furniture every month. AMB is so indebted, it borrowed money from the employee cooperative.

For more than 8 years local management has told the union that they have no ability to adjust the budget for labour costs without an adjustment in Unilever’s budget for licensed manufacturing. Finally in July 2022, Unilever responded. But instead of paying for Bango products made at the factory in a way that ensures decent wages, Unilever unilaterally introduced a Living Wage calculation that justifies existing low wages.

As the 680 members of the IUF-affiliated FSBMM SPMKB continue their protest actions, Unilever management keeps its distance, watching the protests and keeping a hands-off approach to wages and working conditions. Meanwhile the company keeps a hands-on approach to profits that continue rolling in.

The 19th protest by FSBMM SPMKB members on September 30, 2022, calling for decent wages to overcome economic hardship is ignored by Unilever.

No sign of Danone’s “social enterprise” in Bangladesh – management hides company name instead of resolving rights abuse

No sign of Danone’s “social enterprise” in Bangladesh – management hides company name instead of resolving rights abuse

When workers formed a union at Danone’s factory in Bangladesh for the first time in January 2022, they believed it was an opportunity to finally secure the decent benefits and wages that a “social enterprise” is supposed to represent. Instead they faced a backlash from management that escalated with the termination on September 12 of an active union member, Mohammad Shahabuddin, who management had chosen to victimize in February to set an example to other workers.

While the union wrote to management and repeatedly sought negotiations to resolve the dispute, management (which refuses to keep written records as a business practice) did not reply. Management did nothing to avoid the escalation to protest actions. Instead, a day before the protest, security personnel at the factory were ordered to remove the company sign. Hiding Danone’s brand name took priority over fairness and rights.


Danone’s “social enterprise” in Bangladesh fails workers as management undermines trade union rights

Danone’s “social enterprise” in Bangladesh fails workers as management undermines trade union rights

The newly formed Danone Workers Union in Bangladesh launched protest actions on October 1, 2022, after months of attacks on worker and trade union rights by local management.

When workers formed a union for the first time January 2022, local management intervened to prevent its formation. Despite the company’s opposition the union was legally registered by the labour department. Every action by management since has shown that the Danone global policies and proclaimed commitments on worker and trade union rights don’t apply in Bangladesh.

Just a month after the union was formed, two active members were targeted and victimized with false charges of misconduct designed to scare workers away from the union. One of the victimized union members was Mohammad Shahabuddin. With no evidence or basis at all for the fabricated allegations, management was forced to withdraw the charges.

The union then submitted a collective bargaining proposal that includes recognition of trade union rights, improved benefits and wage increases that would potentially lift workers out of poverty. Although management agreed to collective bargaining negotiations, senior HR management refused to allow a written record of the meetings.

In a company that claims far-reaching and extensive accountability, the refusal of local management to maintain written records of meetings raises serious concerns. More so because Danone claims to be a “social enterprise”.

To undermine the union’s collective bargaining efforts and repeated demands for a written record of these meetings, management again filed false charges against Mohammad Shahabuddin and two others in August. Local management’s failure to make an example of Mohammad Shahabuddin in February led to a more aggressive attack on workers’ rights seven months later.

With complete disregard for legal compliance, management formed an internal inquiry committee to investigate the claims against Mohammad Shahabuddin. The senior HR manager who tried to terminate him in February chaired the committee. Despite the legal right to union representation, Mohammad Shahabuddin, management appointed his representative.

The union fought to exercise the legal right to represent Mohammad Shahabuddin. Local management initially refused, but finally relented after the union escalated the issue of an illegal inquiry process. However, the senior HR manager then issued findings without any opportunity for Mohammad Shahabuddin to be represented by his union representatives. Despite this clear violation of the law, Mohammad Shahabuddin was terminated with a letter back-dated to September 12, 2022. This time management at Danone’s “social enterprise” could made its message to all workers very clear.

The union sent a protest letter on September 23 which management ignored. As a result the union launched protest actions on October 1.