From Tuesday through Friday (February 25-28), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) will be holding a meeting of government, employer, and trade union experts to assess standards needed to ensure decent work in global supply chains.
Arriving at this point was not easy. The decision to hold this meeting was taken after much discussion in 2016 at the International Labour Conference, an annual summit of labour ministers.
This is coming as workers around the world are facing risks, sometimes lethal, in the workplace.
For the Associate Director, Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, Uliane Kippenberg, there is a unique opportunity to improve the lives of millions of workers as trade unions, governments, and employers try to agree on standards for work conditions in global supply chains.
Interestingly, the rights group has documented labour rights violations around the world and across various sectors, including textiles, mining, construction, agriculture, and meat processing. In a globalized economy, businesses increasingly source goods and services from complex chains of suppliers that often span multiple countries with different labour rights laws and practices.
One way to improve worker protection, according to it, will be to enshrine labour rights as a legal requirement along global supply chains.
‘’Expect the debate to be heated. While trade unions are advocating for a binding international ILO standard, employer organisations tend to seek voluntary standards, while government positions vary widely’’, says Kippenberg.
At the moment, most countries do not legally require companies to protect labour rights in their global supply chains. There are some good voluntary industry standards, as well as a set of important United Nations norms on business and human rights, detailing steps for human rights “due diligence,” but these are not mandatory.
Adding, Kippenberg said, ‘’the ILO experts should seize this rare opportunity to protect labour rights in supply chains and decide at this week’s meeting that a new international treaty protecting workers is the best way forward.’’