Building back better through international labour standards and corporate social responsibility

Tripartite participants from around the globe have wrapped up a month-long exchange of experiences and best practices through an ILO e-learning course.

News | 13 November 2020
Beijing (ILO News) - Over 90 participants—from 40 countries, including China —have been learning from ILO and other experts and exchanging ideas during a 4-week long online training course. The course, International Labour Standards and Corporate Social Responsibility: the labour dimension of human rights due diligence, saw participation with delegates from government, employer and workers organizations, international organizations, companies and NGOs. All share a strong interest in how businesses can maximize their positive impact on social and economic development, and in particular by respecting and promoting labour rights in and through their operations.

COVID-19 has exposed structural inequalities in the labour market and the inadequacy of social protection systems in many countries. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda are more relevant than ever, particularly those relating to inequality. It is urgent to build back better with equality and environmental sustainability. The poorest, already the most vulnerable, are now at even greater risk of exploitation and labour- rights violations, and the crisis has severely affected the livelihoods of millions of workers, especially those in supplier companies in Asia. Business’ respect and promotion of labour rights, have become essential for workers—and companies—to survive and recover from the pandemic.

Building back better also in the world of business

In post COVID-19 recovery efforts, “building back better” has become a central theme when looking at sustainable enterprise and responsible business. The course builds upon ILO’s work over the years on “Business and Decent work”, which is based on the ILO MNE Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy—ILO’s tripartite normative instrument, which provides guidance both to companies on responsible business practices and to governments on creating an enabling environment for responsible business.

One of the questions that the course answers is how the mandate of the ILO, and its standards, are reflected across different CSR frameworks such as the ILO MNE Declaration, the OECD guidelines, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the UN Global Compact, company policies and sectorial or regional compliance initiatives.

In this regard, Emily Sims, Coordinator of the ILO Helpdesk for Business, clarified that no matter which international instrument or major initiative a company is using, the underlying labour principles are very likely based on the principles contained in International Labour Standards.

Participants take part in focus sessions on International Labour Standards and Business, such as wages, benefits and working hours; occupational safety and health; forced labour and child labour; freedom of association and collective bargaining amongst others. These focus sessions, led by ILO experts on these topics, demystify them and related standards, and most importantly how these are being applied in a business and human rights due diligence context.

The course in China

In China, the ILO through the Responsible Supply Chains in Asia programme has enrolled representatives from leading international enterprises, including H&M, Xiaomi Corporation and Huawei Technologies with significant supply chain links to the country.

Susan Ke is the Social Sustainability Program Responsible, Far East Asia Region, H&M Group Production.

“As a multinational enterprise, it is fundamental to understand and comply with the laws and policies of the host countries. Also, the study and learnings from international labour standards and Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises, can reinforce our implementation of the sustainability strategies and goals,” said Ke.

“This is a well-structured training with clear content classification, diversified training methods including online training, interactive webinars and forums to share all trainees’ assignment and reflections. The training materials are not limited to policies, standards and regulations, but also with many case study, problem analysis and improvement suggestions. We can see that a lot of learnings are quite relevant and workable for our sustainability daily work,” she added.

While ILO standards and approaches are central, the course also provides a forum for experts from other organisations to share their experiences and practices concerning labour rights-related issues and highlighting complementarity between different frameworks, initiatives and International Labour Standards such as the ETI and OECD.