[Exerpt] When you mention the words “unionization campaign,” most people think of picket lines, strikes and collective bargaining tables. Although they sometimes make headlines, labor disputes have traditionally been somewhat private affairs between companies and their employees about internal issues like better wages, benefits, hours and overall working conditions.
Today’s unionization campaigns are more appropriately called “corporate campaigns” because they are orchestrated not just by trade unions, but NGOs, community leaders, politicians and religious groups. They attack the brand, not just the company; they target top executives and shareholders; and they focus on human rights violations — issues like child labor, human trafficking and unsafe working conditions that are more likely to garner public attention and damage the company’s reputation among consumers, business partners and investors.
The purpose of a corporate campaign is still primarily to increase union membership and expand union power and influence on corporate management. The need for new members has become increasingly urgent as unions have been losing their stronghold in industrialized markets like the US, Canada and Europe as more of the historically unionized jobs are moved offshore. This decline has led to a shift in focus. Instead of organizing workers from the bottom up, unions are exerting pressure from the top down, attacking the company’s reputation and advancing public policy positions through the use of corporate campaigns.
On this front, unions have partnered with NGOs to increase the strength and legitimacy of their attacks. As union membership has fallen dramatically over the past 20 years, there’s been a huge rise in the number of NGOs, organizations like Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and Save the Children that have focused much of their attention and resources on pushing their corporate citizenship standards on multinational companies. Together with trade unions, they launch corporate campaigns to turn customers against companies they believe are engaged in unsafe or unethical practices and to pressure governments to take action against those that don’t change their ways.