Self-assessment of quality of relationships:


Why we engage

Unions are an important member of civil society and can contribute meaningfully to addressing societal challenges and creating sustainable growth and prosperity for all. In 2020, globally, 57% of our workforce was unionised, with 75% belonging to a bargaining unit. Given these high levels of representation, it makes sound business sense to maintain constructive relationships with our employees and their representatives in order to maintain and promote productivity, stability and engagement.

Shared priorities   Our response
Freedom of association,
collective bargaining and
disciplined behaviour

Sappi endorses the principles of fair labour practice as entrenched in the United Nations Global Compact and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At a minimum, we conform to and often exceed labour legislation requirements in countries in which we operate. Protecting the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining is fundamental to the manner in which we do business. We engage extensively with representative trade unions. Discussions range from remuneration issues, to training and development, health and safety and organisational changes.

Given the active role taken by labour in South Africa, we have established a number of structures to enhance ongoing positive engagement with union leadership. This is facilitated by structures such as the National Partnership Forum that includes senior members of management and senior union leaders who hold regular meeting where business, safety and union challenges are discussed.

Disciplined behaviour is essential for individual well-being, and to achieve our group goals and objectives. In each region, disciplinary codes ensure appropriate procedures are applied consistently, while grievance policies entrench the rights of employees, including the right to raise a grievance without fear of victimisation, right to seek guidance and assistance from a member of the human resources department or their representative at any time and the right to appeal to a higher authority, without prejudice.

Read more: Supporting sound labour relations


UNGC Principle 3:

Businesses should uphold freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.

Safety and wellness

The health and safety committees at all our operations provide a forum for consultation about the development/review of policies and procedures and changes that affect workplace safety or health. Wellness programmes include fitness and medical screening programmes, as well as psychological and financial support.

working hours and other
conditions of service

Our labour standards ensure that our remuneration practices are fair, with compensation levels set to reflect competitive market practices and internal equity as well as company and individual performance. In rural areas, forest products companies like Sappi are often the only, or major, employers, which makes the local population very dependent on the company and that could, in turn, lead to exploitative behaviour and an indirect form of forced labour. Against this backdrop, in all three regions, labour is sourced on the open market, we pay market-related wages in line with or above local legislation and ensure that working hours are fair.


UNGC Principle 4:

The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour.

Resolving grievances,
engaging on strategy
  • Well-established grievance channels, disciplinary procedures and whistleblower protocols provide a non- retributory framework.
  • We regularly engage with unions on economic conditions, market dynamics and growth plans.

Opportunities for value creation

  • Good employee/management relations enable us to resolve new and difficult labour issues as they develop.
  • When employees understand strategic direction and operating context, they are more likely to be more committed to Sappi, leading to a more stable labour force and higher levels of productivity.

Challenges for value creation

  • Multi-union landscapes, particularly in North America and South Africa, add to complexities in the labour environment.
  • Unrealistic expectations about wages increases, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.