02The Factory Floor Guide to Corporate Accountability
Preface: Upholding workers’rights in a global economy
The United Nations (UN) Framework for Business andHuman Rights states that all businesses have aresponsibility to respect, protect and remedy thehuman rights of individuals and communities impacted bytheir business operations. As part of this responsibility,businesses must ensure that women and men employedin their workplaces and supply chains can access theirbasic employment rights. These rights are contained inInternational Labour Organization (ILO) and UN humanrights conventions, and include the right to form unionsand engage in collective bargaining, the right to safe anddecent working conditions and the right to adecent wage.Yet global employment statistics paint a picture ofhardship and increasing insecurity. Close to 40% of theworld’s workers and their families live on less than US$2a day, while more than 50% lack secure employment.Women are particularly over-represented in insecure andlow paid forms of work. In export-oriented manufacturingsectors, women are usually the first to lose their jobs,despite devastating impacts for their families. Unsafeworking conditions remain a serious problem — the ILOestimates that accidents and diseases at work cause2 million fatalities every year.Holding businesses to account when workers’ rights areviolated is not easy. In many parts of the world economicinequality, paired with weak or corrupt law enforcement,make it very difficult for workers to seek justice.Workers who attempt to organise for fairer workingconditions risk intimidation, discrimination, unfairdismissal, false incrimination and in some cases violence.The lasting solution to this problem lies in ensuring thatworkers’ human rights, and particularly their freedom toorganise, are upheld by national laws and enforced bylocal authorities. However, in most places, there is stilla long way to go towards ensuring that businesses takefull responsibility for the treatment of their employees.In the short term, many workers whose rights are violatedmust use creative strategies to put pressure on both thecompanies and authorities who are responsible for thefulfilment of their rights.For workers who are employed by companies withinmultinational supply chains, approaching influentialinternational buyers or investors can be an effective wayto achieve fulfilment of their rights. Many globalcompanies, together with their investors, generate hugeprofits by outsourcing manufacturing to regions withlow labour costs. But as the UN framework stipulates,these companies cannot outsource their responsibilityto respect the human rights of workers employed in theiroverseas supply chains.The purpose of this toolkit is to provide support toworkers and worker organisations who are employed oroperate within global supply chains and have haddifficulty achieving fulfilment of their rights throughlocal or national means of redress alone. It aims tocomplement, but not replace, local advocacy byproviding some basic information about how workerscan use corporate accountability strategies to enhancetheir campaigns.To address the real causes of inequality and injustice,workers must have a say on corporate accountability andhuman rights at the international level. This toolkit givesworkers and labour organisations resources to combinetheir local experience, knowledge and networks withinternational advocacy strategies to strengthen theirvoice on the issues that impact upon them the most.