Union Busting: the New Worrying Trend of Large Multinationals?

How Starbucks, Amazon and Google do not respect the industrial rights

Large multinationals are ‘union busting’. This entails that they are fighting trade unions to prevent workers from exercising their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. For instance, famous coffee chain Starbucks ran a fierce anti-union campaign. Amazon even spent 14.2 million dollars on anti-union consultants last year to prevent freedom of association and collective bargaining within its workforce. Additionally, Google hired union-busting consultants to convince employees that “unions suck”.

The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining (hereinafter referred to as industrial rights) form main conditions for a working system of social dialogue. The right to collective bargaining ensures a fair process of negotiation to further and protect the interests of workers and employers. Freedom of association ensures the right of workers to form and join organisations of their own choosing, such as a trade union. The industrial rights together form one of the five fundamental labour rights in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998). This means that all ILO Member States must respect and promote these rights, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.

Starbucks, Amazon and Google are all situated in the US. The US is also a member of the ILO. Subsequently this entails that, even though the US has not ratified the conventions for freedom of association and collective bargaining, it is still obliged to ensure respect for those rights. Even though the US does have the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) to act on this behaviour, it appears to not be strict enough since the ILO principles are not enforced as it should. 

This is a clear example of where the ILO supervisory system, which is explained in our blog on that subject, comes into practice. Since this is about freedom of association and collective bargaining, a complaint against the US can be filed to the CFA. And indeed on 8 May 2023, a complaint was made. The CFA will issue a recommendation to the US, offering them clear guidance on how to prevent union-busting in the future. 

Remarkable is that Starbucks claims to “adhere to the ILO Core Labour Standards” – including the industrial rights – in a ‘Global Rights Statement’, but this cannot be found in their code of conduct or their supplier code of conduct. Amazon also does not ensure or promote the industrial rights in their code of conduct, but they do require this of their suppliers. The same goes for Google, respect for the industrial rights is not mentioned in their code of conduct, but Google expects this from its suppliers. This means that combined (Amazon: 1.5 million, Google: approx. 0.2 million, Starbucks: 0.4 million) almost 2 million workers are missing out on one of the five fundamental labour rights. 

This shows the importance of the ILO supervisory system. It also points out the purpose of our database, since the (supplier) codes of conduct show us what companies like these are up to.


den haag