Worker Empowerment Contribution
With dna merch we not just simply sell t-shirts. We want to shed light on alternative and democratic ways of working and have therefore consciously chosen to produce our textiles with a self-managed worker cooperative. What’s more, we want to do our part to improve the situation for workers in the conventional garment industry. That is why we use one percent of our sales to support the global workers’ network ExChains. We call it Worker Empowerment Contribution or simply WEC.
The graphic shows you the annual WEC amounts that we have generated so far. Additionally to the fixed WEC percentage, which is included in all our sales, we have also run three successful crowdfunding campaigns raising an extra WEC of 10,237.95 Euros.
Alone in India, 45 million people are working in the textile and garment sector. However, as of 2019 less than 5 percent of them are organised in trade unions. This means that they cannot enforce their rights and concerns against corporations and the state. However, in capitalism, our current economic system, it is exactly this collective power and strength of independent worker unions, which is needed to turn poor working conditions into good or at least better working conditions.
This is where the work of ExChains comes into play. On the one hand, workers are made aware of their rights through campaigns and personal communication; on the other hand, joint strategies are developed to put pressure on the big brands. This is done across country and company borders because the workers who are organised in ExChains come from supplier factories in South Asia as well as from fashion retail shops in Europe.
dna merch is therefore both a provider of fair and coop-made textiles and a part of an international campaign for good working conditions!
Solidarity Success Stories
Transnational worker solidarity at the grassroots level works. When asked about the impact of our cooperation and the difference that our WEC helped to make in India in recent years, Michael (ExChains, Germany) and Dithhi (ExChains, India) told us the following:
“In the textile and garment industry in Bangalore, for the first time, collective bargaining has been achieved and unions have been recognized as representing workers’ interests. In 2019, workers at Avery Denisson, a supplier to Primark and H&M, among others, fought for equal terms and permanent employment for temporary workers. In this dispute, they achieved union recognition in the workplace and successfully started negotiations for a collective agreement. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, workers at H&M supplier Gokaldas Exports fought against their layoffs following a site closure and the busting of their factory union. They too were successful: they got their union recognized and they won a right to return to work at nearby company sites for all 1,200 workers.”
“The WEC helped counter the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs as a result of branch closures in Europe and the USA and associated order cuts as well as factory closures in India. Unionized companies were particularly affected. The additional resources could be used to support the rebuilding of the workers’ unions.”
“The digitization of the clothing industry and the restructuring of the entire industry require new trade union strategies, which are rooted at the workplace level. The support of dna merch helps to develop such strategies. On the one hand, this makes it possible to understand the changes in work organization that lead, among other things, to work intensification, further flexibility and precarization, and which are caused by ever greater integration into the value chains of clothing retailers. On the other hand, the support helps to find ways to mobilize and organize workers on these issues. This also deepens cooperation with European retail workers who are involved in similar disputes.”
Development of Our Partner Cooperative
Given the fact that our primary goal is to support worker empowerment and worker self-management, it has been particularly rewarding to witness the constant organic growth of our core partner Social Cooperative Humana Nova. Since our first visits in 2014 and 2015 the number of workers has grown substantially from 14 to over 40 in 2022. In the same period, the workers managed to increase their annual revenue by more than five times.
This growth has been driven by a surge in domestic clients and innovations in the field of textile collection and recycling. It is important to highlight that half of the workers either come from a minority or marginalized group or have some kind of physical or psychological handicap. They would not find work somewhere else so easily. In absence of a boss and inhumane conditions such as piece wage pay (common in the conventional textile industry), the workers of Humana Nova have created an inclusive and dignified workplace for themselves.