Using the U.N. Global Compact forum to support human rights

The United Nations Global Compact recently launched the Human Rights and Business Dilemma Forum, an initiative designed to stimulate constructive discussion about perceived dilemmas that socially responsible multinational companies may face in their efforts to respect and support human rights when operating in emerging economies.

The Forum features tools and case studies to help companies ensure that human rights are being respected in their operations throughout the world.  It was developed in alignment with the framework proposed by John Ruggie, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Business and Human Rights.

According to the Forum, one of the biggest dilemmas facing multinational corporations is freedom of association:  “How does a company respect the right to freedom of association in its operations and supply chain when its operations…or suppliers are based in countries where such rights are heavily restricted…?”

Because freedom of association is essential to ensuring respect for other fundamental rights at work, it is imperative for companies to find solutions to this important labor issue.  The Forum offers examples, suggestions and resources for companies to overcome the freedom of association dilemma, including a recommendation to “develop grievance mechanisms for workers who do not have access to trade unions or workers’ representatives.”  One such mechanism mentioned in the Forum is the Fair Labor Association’s Third Party Complaint (3PC) procedure, which serves as a channel through which any individual or organization can confidentially report a serious labor abuse at any factory affiliated with FLA.  FLA’s work through 3PCs has helped to bring about positive improvements in the lives of workers. Lodging a complaint with the FLA has made a difference, prompting investigations and ensuring remediation at dozens of factories across the globe.

Check out the Human Rights Business Dilemma Forum to participate in the discussion and learn more.

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Eliminating Child Labor and Forced Labor in Imported Agricultural Products

On April 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service announced the opening of the public comment period on recommendations – made by the Consultative Group to Eliminate the Use of Child Labor and Forced Labor in Imported Agricultural Products – for voluntary private-sector monitoring and verification of child labor and forced labor in supply chains.  Click here to review the federal register notice, including recommendations, instructions on submitting comments, and information on the upcoming public meeting on May 12, 2011, in Washington, DC.

The Consultative Group was established by section 3205 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (“Farm Bill”), and FLA President & CEO Auret van Heerden was appointed to the Consultative Group in 2009 by Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack.  On December 15, 2010, the Consultative Group made recommendations for a set of program elements for inclusion in the voluntary company guidelines to be issued by the Secretary of Agriculture. The recommendations include (from the 2010 report):

  • Setting standards on child labor and forced labor that meet or exceed relevant International Labor Organization standards or national law, whichever is more stringent;
  • Mapping supply chains, beginning with the producers of each agricultural product or commodity, and identifying areas of child labor/forced labor risk along these chains;
  • Communicating the company’s standards, rights, expectations, monitoring and verification programs, remediation policies, and complaint process to suppliers (managers, supervisors, staff) throughout its supply chain as appropriate, including to workers, unions, producers, civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders;
  • Ensuring that a safe and accessible channel is available to workers and other stakeholders to lodge complaints, including through independent monitors or verifiers.
  • Monitoring of company supply chains through periodic auditing by competent and qualified auditors, with a special emphasis on identified areas of risk;
  • Developing and implementing a remediation policy/plan that addresses remediation for individual victims as well as remediation of company and/or suppliers’ systems and processes;
  • Periodically conducting internal reviews to check the company’s results against its own program goals; and
  • Making available to the public information on the company’s monitoring program and its process to remediate/improve performance.

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Recognizing Consumers’ Role in the Global Supply Chain

In February, FLA President & CEO Auret van Heerden participated in a workshop – Company Responsibilities in Countries with Human Rights Challenges – organized by the Business Humanitarian Forum and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

The event was held against the backdrop of the recently published draft report “Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework” by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie.

Auret discussed FLA’s role in improving working conditions around the world and providing the public with information it can use to make informed purchasing decisions. Auret stressed the fundamental contradiction between the buying and manufacturing ends of the chain: the buyer expects the supplier to deliver cheap products and services while respecting working standards. However, global competitive pressures within supply chains are making it very hard for suppliers meet both these, often conflicting, demands.

Consumers – often unknowingly – drive these pressures through their demand for ever-lower prices. We may not realize or want to acknowledge that the lower prices of the products we love to consume are ultimately paid for by workers’ wages. But we have to take responsibility for our purchasing decisions, recognizing our own role in the global supply chain to ensure sustainability and protect workers’ rights.

Read the full workshop report here.