One day in June 2009 a South African trade unionist emerged from a meeting with the boss of a global security firm, G4S, the largest employer on the African continent. He held his hands in the air, and in his fist he had a wrinkled copy of the contract his union had negotiated with the company. He had just successfully helped a recently-fired security guard reclaim his job, claiming the language in the contract showed unjust termination. He said:
“This is my copy of the global agreement. It’s like a bible, man. When management tells me to get out, I show them this. When workers are afraid to join, I show them this. When people tell me we don’t have the right, I point to this. This this this. This is the key. But only if we use it right.”
He was referring to a global framework agreement (GFA) that was the culmination of five years of acrimonious struggle by UNI Global Union, as well as its allies in South Africa and others around the globe. GFAs are policy instruments signed by transnational corporations and global union federations that create an arena for global labor relations. GFAs also link unions around the world in an effort to impact the behavior of companies throughout their supply chains. The agreement forced G4S, the world’s third-largest employer behind Walmart and Foxconn, to recognize unions and raise standards in a handful of countries, or risk losing investors. Notably, the agreement granted all of its nearly 600,000 employees workplace “neutrality,” the right to organize without management interference.