The future of labour rights: Corporate accountability and fair trade
Source: Choike

Globalization undermines basic labour rights in many developing countries. As a response many NGOs are looking for alternatives to current international standards and laws. Instead of weak ILO regulations, which many countries neither ratify nor enforce, corporations are held directly responsible for the working conditions in their factories and the factories of their subcontractors. One way to improve labour rights are the so-called Codes of Conduct. These codes usually expess a commitment by an individual company to certain workplace regulations or a labeling organization which independently monitors a framework of rules its members agreed on.

Codes of Conduct can be seen as a strategy to strengthen workers' rights as they usually apply to all workers of a particular company and its subcontractors across national boundaries. In times when basic labour rights are undermined in many countries and production increasingly moves to these countries this can be an important tool for corporate accountability. However, existing codes are often very basic commitments which do not always include even the standard ILO requirements. Furthermore, monitoring is insufficient, allowing companies to violate the commitments.

Another answer to the exploitation of workers are the various fair trade initiatives. They often support local co-operatives instead of multinational corporations. Globalization has left out many small-scale farmers and home-based workers who are at the bottom of the global production chain. Most fair trade initiatives subscribe to similar basic principles: products receive a fair price, substantially above current world market prices; forced labour and child labour are not allowed; health and safety conditions at the workplace are good; producers can obtain technical and sometimes financial help; the fair trade organization and producer deal directly with each other and establish a long-term relationship; all activities of the producer are monitored independently. Nowadays fair trade products include a wide range of products from coffee to clothing and household items.

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Codes of Conduct: Improving global labour rights?

CAFTA’s weak labor rights protections: why the present accord should be opposed (Human Rights Watch)

Resource Center: Codes of Conduct & Independent Monitoring (Maquila Solidarity Network)

Q&A Codes of Conduct (Transnational Information Exchange Asia)

A guide to codes of international labour practice (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung)

Views from the South: Conference report on ethical trade (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development)

Codes of Conduct, government regulation, and workers organizing (Maquila Solidarity)

Coffee & Codes: Overview of codes of conduct and ethical trade initiatives in the coffee sector (Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations)

Credibility gap between codes & conduct – a smokescreen for poor labour standards (Asian Monitor Resource Center)

Monitoring the monitors: A critique of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Labor Monitoring (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

New global workers’ rights deals (European Foundation)

How Hasbro, Mattel, McDonald's and Disney manufacture their toys (Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee)

Fair trade and Code of Conduct initiatives

Final trade union statement on the WTO Hong Kong agenda (ICFTU)

Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO)

Fair Labor Association

Ethical Trading Initiative

Social Accountability International

Fair Wear Foundation

Worker Rights Consortium (WCR)

Commission for the Verification of Codes of Conduct

Global Alliance for Workers and Communities

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