Following reports in the French press in January, the French-based food and drink transnational Danone confirmed proposals for restructuring its European biscuit operations in a March 29 meeting with the IUF and its European affiliates representing Danone workers. The plan, involving the closure of 6 sites and the reorganization of others, would result in the overall loss of 1,816 jobs. The IUF and its affiliates oppose the employment implications of this proposal, and we will defend the interests of our members in a militant, determined and serious way. But we do not support the boycott of Danone products which some have called for in France.

Rather than boycotting, we are contesting the restructuring within the framework of a unique international agreement signed by Danone and the IUF as the international trade union federation representing the vast majority of Danone's unionized workers around the world.

The 1997 agreement between the IUF and Danone is global in coverage. It ensures that Danone's actions, in the event of any proposal that implies job losses, at least meet minimum agreed conditions and involve full and open negotiations with local unions. The agreement ties Danone to a standard that, certainly outside Europe, few major companies are prepared to meet.

It makes it impossible, for example, for Danone to act as Nestlé did in Brazil, when the company closed a plant by telling hundreds of workers on a Friday that they need not report for work the following Monday. Or as Coca-Cola Amatil did in the Philippines when, just before Christmas 1999, they announced that workers had a few days to prepare for unemployment in the year 2000, with no consultative or negotiating rights whatsoever.

The agreement, which builds on the IUF/Danone global agreement on trade union rights, also makes it impossible for Danone to do what Marks & Spencer is now trying to pull off: engaging in phoney "consultations" with a non-union "European Council" of its own construction.

Without renouncing our right to criticize and, when necessary, to enter into conflict with Danone, we believe it is a company that has sought and continues to seek to develop a relationship with its workers and the unions that represent them that can only be seen as a model for others. Danone has generally shown itself to hold to higher social standards than any comparable transnational in the food and beverage sector (and possibly any other sector). To ignore this crucial distinction can put at risk the possibility that unions acting together internationally can successfully raise the social standards underlying corporate action in an increasingly globalized world.

Against this background, the IUF believes that we and our affiliates have an inherent self-interest in Danone's survival and success. Our job, as a global trade union federation, is to work to ensure that other major companies are pressed to match these standards.

For a full commentary on the IUF's reaction to Danone's proposals for restructuring the European biscuit sector and their implications in a global context, please see the text now available on the IUF web site at:

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) is an international trade union federation composed of 333 trade unions in 120 countries with an affiliated membership of 2.5 million members. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland.