UNI Global Union Targets MTN, Ecobank for Global Labor Accords

UNI Global Union, which coordinates 20 million workers worldwide, is pushing MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company, and others operating on the continent to sign accords to respect labor union rights.

“The whole issue of union recognition and collective bargaining is becoming much harder,” Philip Jennings, general secretary of Nyon, Switzerland-based UNI, said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town yesterday. “We have had difficulties with companies that have come into Africa and pretended not to understand the local rules of the game. We are trying to use a different process of engagement.”

Other companies being targeted to sign global accords include Ecobank Transnational Inc., the lender that operates in more African countries than any other, and Pick n Pay Stores Ltd., South Africa’s second-largest grocer. Shoprite Holdings Ltd., Africa’s largest grocer and South African packaging company Nampak Ltd. are among the 48 companies globally that have signed such agreements with UNI.

The group has about 900 affiliate unions in 150 countries, 40 of them in Africa. Competition for investment within the continent poses a risk to worker rights, Jennings said.

“Even if a company has good relationships at its head office in a long-standing country of social partnerships, when they go outside, then we have real problems,” he said. “There is an inconsistency. There is a race to the bottom, not just in terms of wages, but in terms of regulation, in terms of taxation, in terms of health and safety issues.”

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