UN Forum on Business and Human Rights 2019

Fundamental Rights and Principles at Work and business in conflict settings

News | 27 November 2019
To explore the role of business in promoting peace, a special side-event “Business for Peace: Bridging the Gap with Human Rights” was organized by the UN Global Compact (UNGC) and Thunderbird School of Global Management on 27 November 2019 as part of the UN annual Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva.

The event featured a panel on the complex challenges businesses are facing, chaired by the UN Global Compact and comprised of representatives of the Global Compact Networks of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and UK and the ILO.

As a panellist in the session, Mr. Simon Hills, Technical Specialist in the ILO Fundamentals Principles and Rights at Work (FPRW) Branch for Europe, Arab States and in Fragile Situations and Emergencies, spoke about the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and their implications for businesses operating in situations of conflict and fragility.

Businesses face a number of complex challenges linked to rights at work: child labour, forced labour including modern slavery, discrimination and freedom of association and collective bargaining. In situations of fragility, conflict and displacement, and in the context of transformations such as climate change and the growing complexity of supply chains and multinational industries, these challenges are compounded.

Yesterday saw the launch of the Alliance 8.7 report on child labour, forced labour and human trafficking in global supply chains, led by ILO, OECD, IOM and UNICEF, responding to a 2017 meeting of the G20 labour and employment ministers asking for proposals on how to accelerate action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour (WFCL), forced labour and modern slavery in global supply chains.

The ILO’s unique position within the UN system, founded on its tripartite approach, is all a key part of how challenges are addressed and should be addressed. There is a need for government involvement in these issues, along with involvement of employers and business – no one part of this equation can achieve these goals independently and this is often where interventions fall down.

Mr. Simon Hills, ILO.
The ILO strategy for Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work for 2017-2023 has three thematic priorities which are very relevant when looking at complex challenges of business:
  1. Promoting FPRW in rural and informal economies;
  2. Promoting compliance with FPRW in enterprises and supply chains; and
  3. Promoting FPRW in situations of crisis and fragility.
ILO Recommendation No. 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience is a key milestone for ILO’s commitment and work in situations of fragility and crisis, and decent work is and should be placed at the heart of moves to improve social justice and human dignity.

The ILO also has an instrument that provides direct guidance to enterprises on inclusive, responsible and sustainable workplace practices: the Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration). The MNE Declaration is particularly relevant in the context of countries recovering from crisis or disaster, where workers might experience situations challenging the respect of their rights, including violations of FPRW.

How can FPRW be leveraged to support the positive contribution of business to peace? First, it is important to note that FPRW are not the only standards or issues that need addressing within global supply chains, nor should they be seen that way. However, they are an entry point for further work and also underpin other, possibly larger changes (such as moves to formality and minimum/living wages) by ensuring these conditions. The four categories of change focused on are: public policies and governance building; empowerment and representation; partnerships and advocacy, of which Alliance 8.7 and EPIC are key parts; and knowledge and data, as baselines and accurate data are essential for understanding the extent of a problem, and how well we are addressing it.