The role of unions in increasing localisation

The labour movement has a vested interest in encouraging localisation.

As one of the social partners at Nedlac, they were signatories to the Local Procurement Accord in 2011, making a number of commitments to support localisation, which have contributed to the narrative around the buy local movement and broader localisation.

When there are job losses, the first cries we hear are from the unions, who blame employers for protecting profits at the expense of the workers they are laying off. But without re-industrialization, retrenchments may sometimes be unavoidable if the choice is between business closure and saving at least some jobs by being leaner and therefore more profitable.

The unions’ need to contribute meaningfully to re-industrialization is in part entrenched in their need to protect their membership base

Jobs shed in the poultry, clothing, textiles, leather and footwear industries as highlighted in previous columns here have predominantly (if not all) been from among their own numbers, whether represented by small regional unions or large national federations.

However, while most unions are equal in their vocal objections to redundancies, not all are as active as they might be in their collaboration with or support of the buy local movement.

Historically, the relationship between the union movement and Proudly South African has had most success coming from the relationship we have with the South African Clothing & Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu).

With more than 1000 000 jobs lost in their sector between 2002 and 2015, they needed little galvanizing by us to embrace buying local and to practice what they preach.

They have introduced their own “Wear South African” campaign, which champions ethical sourcing, empowers local creative talent, creating authentic local brands in the process and establishing 19 independent stores across the country.


In addition, Sactwu’s 44-year-old tradition of the Spring Queen & Fashion Pageant held annually in Cape Town and celebrating the workers behind the designers, has become the world’s largest fashion show featuring workers as the models.

Machinists, pattern makers and textile weavers among the many others that bring to life the vision of the designers proudly model the products of their own labours, bringing in an audience of around 10 000 every year.

We would love to see every South African proud to wear something made locally. It is our family members, friends and neighbours, or even just someone you shared a taxi with that are the everyday people behind what we wear, and if we persist in buying imported clothing, we will see them retrenched one by one.

How can our business and factory owners keep their doors open if there is no local demand for what they are making? How can they invest and grow if they do not enjoy the support of us all? Our economic contraction is another country’s economic growth. One job loss here is a job created elsewhere. By buying local we can break the cycle of unemployment which leads to persistent poverty.

Back to the unions, whose shop stewards are able to wield a lot of influence with their employers. If they are able to change their companies’ internal buying habits, for example of bathroom detergents, kitchen materials, uniforms, even office stationery and furniture, this would already go a long way to helping those local suppliers stay in business, protecting fellow workers from job losses.

I guess Brenda Fassie was on to something when she said Umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu, which can loosely be translated as meaning “you need others to become a better person”.

We all need to support and rely on each other, look out for each other’s jobs by buying what is locally produced and manufactured.

By keeping people in work, we break the poverty cycle, feed and educate our children and raise the future leaders of this country.

Eustace Mashimbye is the chief executive of Proudly SA.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Independent Media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.