It’s Advent, the season when we prepare for the good news of Christmas (you can tell that I once started training as an Anglican priest). Some of you are probably hoping for the good news that this is my last blog of the year.
Well it might be - if you read to the end of the blog and take the required action.
You might have noticed - from the ETI Twitter feed for example or various blogs that last week there was the 3rd Annual United Nations Forum in Geneva on Business and Human Rights.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you should know by now that the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights have three elements:
1. The state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business;
2. The corporate (business) responsibility to respect human rights; and
3. The need for more effective access to remedies by victims of human rights abuse.
As Sharon Burrows, the leader of the global trade union movement said in a speech to the forum:
The “state duty” to protect human rights and the “business responsibility” to respect human rights are different and independent. This means that states cannot use the power of business as an excuse to not do their duty to protect human rights and business enterprises cannot use the failure of the state to do its duty as an excuse to avoid their responsibility to respect human rights.
Not that some governments need that excuse. So the Bangladesh government, for example, having solemnly signed up to a sustainability pact to improve conditions after the Rana Plaza disaster, have just not bothered to make the legal required to bring labour law into line with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards. One ILO committee even went so far as to use really strong language and said it “deeply regrets”. That’s like you and me shouting at the top of our voices. More here.
A cynic would comment, “why should they?” After Rana Plaza, the international community lined up to say how important it was that buyers kept ordering from Bangladesh – in order to help the country escape from poverty. The garment industry has happily allowed international brands to organise inspections, to pay for the improvements in factories and even help pay workers wages while the improvements are made. Meanwhile, the government is paid by international donors to recruit and pay for labour inspectors that it could easily have afforded with the money being made from the garment industry.
Saving companies money
Last week in Dhaka I was running some training for elected worker representatives and asked them to discuss the different channels that workers could use to raise problems. Grievance mechanisms is what we call them and they are good for business. Workers in the UK spend an average of 1.8 hours per week dealing with problems in the workplace – which equates to an annual loss of 370 million working days. That is according to the well-known Marxist organisation, the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), a government agency.
So grievance mechanisms, properly used, save business money. And the aforementioned UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights says quite a lot about the need for businesses to have an effective grievance mechanism. Principle 31 in the Guiding Principles goes into some detail about this, if you want to check.
So I asked these worker representatives about grievance machinery. Naturally, global brands have required suppliers to develop such machinery.
Not a single worker had a clue about them. They didn’t even understand the question. Of course, when social auditors visit, copies of the grievance procedure are produced.
So averse are the managers of factories in Bangladesh to hearing any kind of worker voice, that they don’t even want workers to use a procedure that will save the factories money.
Doesn’t make sense does it? But as I pointed out in a previous blog, trade unions are good for business, and workers in unionised establishments are more loyal to their employer than workers in non-unionised establishments.
Here is a great Christmas offer.
There is a fantastic new ETI course, Worker voice and representation: The right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. I know it’s fantastic because I helped to write it and I am the trainer.
On the course, you can learn all about freedom of association and worker voice, including what to do where there is no trade union, and the jargon of the trade union world will be demystified.
You can learn how to save your business money, and to help your suppliers save money, by giving workers a real voice.
The offer is, if you sign up for the course which will take place on 14 January 2015, I promise this will be the last blog of 2014.
Sign up for a great course, save your company money and have the satisfaction of knowing that you are saving humanity from another of my blogs this year.
It’s better than gold, frankincense and myrrh.