Solidarity in action in value chains

Trade unionists from Germany and the global South discussed how digitalization is changing working conditions globally at an international conference held at the FES Berlin on July 5 and 6.

When seamstresses in India and Bangladesh campaigned for a digitalization collective agreement at IKEA and salespeople at REWE and EDEKA campaigned for orange pickers in Brazil to be exposed to fewer harmful chemicals, these workers lived and experienced the value of solidarity.

Gautam Modi from the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) described how a labour dispute at an Indian textile manufacturer was resolved after colleagues in the German sales outlets lobbied the brand company concerned to keep the seamstresses employed. This is how modern transnational trade union work works!

The commerce section of ver.di has been living for years what will be more demanded in times of ever more closely linked value chains and increased pressure on employees: Holding companies accountable when they fail to meet their due diligence obligations for decent working conditions in supply chains. Because despite declarations of intent, international agreements and the new German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, it is not a matter of course that retail groups and fashion chains face up to their responsibilities. This will require an increasing willingness on the part of German employees and their works councils to ensure that "their" companies also comply with the due diligence obligations laid down by the new law. This is a task that the trade union ver.di must and will take on. Its chairman Frank Werneke announced that training courses would be offered to enable company representatives to help adapt supply chains in line with human rights.

This will also be necessary. In the international conference organized by ver.di Commerce, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the international network TIE on July 5 and 6 in Berlin with around 120 colleagues from Germany and trade unionists from Brazil, South Africa, India and Bangladesh, it was vividly illustrated how digitalization is changing working conditions. In German supermarkets and fashion stores, for example, AI-controlled systems are already playing an increasingly important role in the organization of work. Among other things, they also ensure the technologically determined reordering of goods - with direct effects on textile workers in Asia. The effects are similar: work intensification, less scope for decision-making, devaluation of qualifications, flexibilization and the threat of being replaced by digital systems. The logical consequence is therefore the demand for collective bargaining to help shape digitalization at the workplace and in the supply chain. Heiner Köhnen from TIE emphasized. "We don't just want to discuss the consequences that the use of new technology can have. We want to have a say about the technology itself, we want to have insight into the algorithm and all the functions. Only then can working people be prevented from becoming appendages of the machines."

Thus, it became clear in the conference how rapidly the change in the value chains is happening on. At the same time, transnational union cooperation has also increased self-confidence that workers are not helplessly exposed to this change, but can actively help shape it - in Germany and in countries of the Global South.


Translated with (free version)

Video summary of the conference:

Head of Project

Mirko Herberg

+49 (0)30 26935-7458

Matthias Weber

+49 (0)30 26935-7744


Contact persons for specific requests


Contact Person

Mirko Herberg
Mirko Herberg
+49 30 26935-7458