Dinosaurs in Paris: business as usual at the OECD
I’ve just posted a blog on the Center for American Progress’ website about what the upcoming UN Framework and Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights might mean for workers globally.
The Framework, drafted by UN Special Representative John Ruggie proposes a profoundly simple idea: that businesses should be responsible for their human rights impacts wherever they occur. For the world of work, this means that a company must stop its negative impact on workers, regardless of whether or not they are directly employed by it. To rip off my own words, it can begin to tackle a massive global problem:
…As business operations and their supply chains become more complex, workers are increasingly falling outside of direct and permanent employment relationships that are protected by labor laws into jobs that are more insecure, low paid, and dangerous. They are a key part of the 1.5 billion workers—just more than half of the global labor force—who are now in vulnerable forms of employment, according to this year’s ILO Global Employment Trends report.
Under Ruggie’s proposed due-diligence test, the fact that, say, a luxury clothing brand may not have a Delhi home worker on the payroll is irrelevant. If their sourcing contracts are denying her a living wage or resulting in unsafe working conditions, then they need to act.
Ruggie’s proposal is clear and pragmatic: it’s not asking business to tackle things it isn’t responsible for. And that’s probably why it has been supported by many businesses globally, along with governments and civil society.
So it’s a shame then that key business lobbies in Paris are kicking and screaming over attempts to include this principle in the Employment and Industrial Relations chapter of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, currently being updated.
The Guidelines are standards of behaviour expected of multinational enterprises operating in or from the territory of the 42 states that have signed up to them. Each state has a “National Contact Point” promoting the Guidelines and considering complaints under them. They are the closest thing that we have to a global system of holding business to account, even though they’re non-binding. In short, this is the best chance we have to turn Ruggie’s carefully crafted words into action.
The negotiations only have a few more weeks left to run, so its time for governments, civil society, and especially the progressive business community, to speak louder than the business dinosaurs currently blocking progress in Paris.