STEP 1 of the implementation road map highlights the importance of the policy you have regarding workers’ rights, namely freedom of association (FOA), collective bargaining (CB) and worker representation.
A policy that values workers welfare, voice, rights and protections, and recognises the universal core labour standards, should ideally reflect the organisations approach and commitment to promoting workers’ rights and protections throughout their supply chains.
According to the ILOs report, Integrated Strategy on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 2017-2023, “More than 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries that have ratified neither ILO Convention No. 87 on freedom of association nor Convention No. 98 on collective bargaining; and in many countries that have ratified them violations of these rights persist in law and practice.”
Therefore, a clear policy is important as it expresses the organisations respect for workers in their supply chains. It articulates your business commitment and contribution to mature industrial relations by respecting the collective formal voice of workers and to upholding, supporting and protecting workers’ rights.
The universal and consistent nature of core labour standards provides wording and structure for workers’ rights and protections. The standards therefore set out a consistent and global narrative and indicators for:
- a benchmark for auditing and reporting purposes,
- setting explicit expectation of business relationships, and
- due diligence mapping for FOA, CB and assessing risk to and for worker representation, non-compliance action plans, grievance mechanisms and industrial relations management.
What should a policy say about FOA, CB and worker representation?
A worker-centred policy based on core labour standards should - at a minimum - respect the ETI Base Code, international legal and policy frameworks. It should act as key point of reference for the company’s employees and business relationships on human rights at work, ethical business practices and human resources or industrial relations policy.
Central to freedom of association is the freedom to choose. Policy can support this freedom in a clear and definitive way. For example, an explicit policy statement could be: “Workers are free to join associations of their own choosing. Managers shall not interfere with workers who wish to lawfully and peacefully associate, organise or bargain collectively. The decision of whether or not to do so should be made solely by the workers.”
Policy though goes beyond statements or broad stroke acknowledgement of worker’s rights and protections - It should also include:
- How the policy will be implemented and managed
- Internally managed and monitored, through, for example, management standards or a KPI system
- Externally communicated and implemented through supplier training, independent projects and programmes such as the ETI Social Dialogue programme or country working groups.
- The reach of the policy – for example, the supply chain tiers and types of worker covered, including whether it covers vulnerable workers (e.g. casual, seasonal, migrant or temporary workers).
- Expectation of new and existing suppliers. The policy commitment to freedom of association, collective bargaining and independently elected representatives should also be included in supplier self-assessment questionnaires (SAQs).
- Ownership and stewardship of the policy, for example, lines of accountability, reporting and review frequency, and how the commitment is supported.
- Where available, examples or reference to where your organisation has evidence of good practice or formal arrangements such as Global Framework Agreements (GFAs).
- A complaints mechanism whereby breeches of policy on access to FOA, CB and worker representation can be reported.
The universal nature of freedom of association, collective bargaining and worker representation lends itself to integration into all aspects of company supply chain policy commitments.
A review therefore could include adding expectations on freedom of association, collective bargaining and worker representation into:
- Safety, health and well-being policy – for example, the right of workers through their worker representatives or trade union committee, to raise collective concerns on matters pertaining to their safety, health and well-being. This could also be suggestions on improvements, participation in audits or continuous improvement initiative or systems.
- Environmental performance or if integrated as Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) – for example, similar to above but with specific focus on environmental safety such as use of hazardous chemicals but also on carbon reduction, water usage or energy savings.
- Equality and diversity – for example, the right of all workers, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality, to access their rights and protections and be collectively represented through worker representation or a trade union. This could also apply to cross border or internal migration of workers.
- Grievance mechanisms - for example, elected worker representatives or the local trade union participate in the design and development of grievance mechanisms.
When developing, reviewing or refining your policy of FOA, CB and worker representation we recommend using the universally accepted wording in ILO conventions. Build an overall statement that your company respects the rights of both employees and workers in your supply chain to access and exercise their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Promoting support for FOA, CB and WR as a fair and balanced mechanism for reaching agreements between workers and managers should include implementation clauses giving substance to the statement. In particular, we recommend:
- Freedom of association is the right of all workers, without exception, to establish and join organisations of their own choosing without prior authorisation and without interference from government or their employer.
- Collective bargaining is supported and recognised as a mechanism for reaching agreements on how the relations between a supplier and its workers will be governed.
- Workers’ rights and protections extend to all tiers of the supply chain - where FOA is restricted and where unions cannot operate, the best available form of independent worker representation should be pursued.
- Where trade unions face significant challenges to carry out legitimate activity this should not be used as a reason to establish alternative forms of representation that frustrate or interfere with trade union access or engagement in the future.
- Comply with both national law and international instruments and standards on freedom of association and collective bargaining.
- Workers of all status be they permanent, temporary, contract or seasonal will have access to fundamental workplace rights and protections.
- Workers have the right to raise concerns without fear of intimidation or reprisal.
Additional wording could include:
- Support workplace social dialogue and consultative industrial relations based on respect for the worker’s chosen trade union or elected representatives.
- Support for early dispute resolution, grievance mechanisms and remediation action plans agreed with freely elected worker representatives.
- Ensuring that trade union or freely elected worker representatives participate in the audit process, including to verify audit findings, as appropriate.
- Promote capacity-building for worker representatives and employers, in order to help them enter into dialogue, consultation or negotiations in a professional and effective manner.
As you expand the scope of the policy and set requirements for suppliers, we recommend keeping the following considerations in mind:
- Export processing zones - Many governments will seek to exclude trade unions from organising within export processing zones, even if workers are free to organise elsewhere in the country. We recommend supporting the right of all workers to be able to access and enjoy their rights and protections on site even where this goes above and beyond the local law.
- Recognising situations where unions face significant challenges to carry out legitimate activity exists - this should not be used as a reason to establish alternative forms of representation that frustrate or interfere with union access or engagement in the future. On the contrary policy text ought to affirm that steps should be taken to help build social dialogue, develop worker and employer industrial relations skills, support engagement with unions and build the relations that will enable full representation. This would be applicable when:
- Union access to the workforce is denied - Employers may inhibit unions from being able to communicate with the workers.
- There is interference with union activity - Suppliers may seek to influence elections or influence the ability of a trade union to represent the interests of its members. Removal of workers from registers reflecting lower density of permanent workforce required to form a trades union.
- Victimisation of union representatives or workers expressing desire to unionise – This may manifest in outward or obvious discrimination, intimidation and even violence or murder. It may also be subtle through, for example, relocation of workers.
- Refusal to recognise and bargain - Suppliers may allow their workers to join unions but undermine the value of workers’ union membership by refusing to recognise or bargain with the union.
- Denial of information - To prevent trade union representatives from bargaining meaningfully, some suppliers refuse to provide them with sufficient information about the issues in hand.
- Threats that hinder bargaining - Companies can use threats to inhibit workers’ ability bargain effectively, e.g. by threatening to move their operations to a prohibitive location.
Where do the core labour standards come from?
The ETI base code is built on international labour standards (ILS), The ILS are also woven into the plethora of standards, codes and principles we use to establish frameworks, audit against, manage and monitor workers’ rights in global supply chains. A second document, Act to embed[i], works in conjunction with this and is specific to how the Base Code intersects with worker representation.
The basic standards are derived from global ILS developed and enshrined at the International Labour Organization (ILO) providing a floor of both rights and protections for workers. They are treaties and legal instruments drawn up by the ILO’s tripartite constituents of governments, employers and workers.
What are the fundamental international labour standards?
The ILO's Governing Body has identified eight conventions as "fundamental” - these principles are also covered in the ILO's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998).
The eight fundamental Conventions are:
- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)
- Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
- Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
- Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
- Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
- Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)
How do the conventions transpose into national regulation?
- Global (Governments ratify)
- Sector or Development initiatives (principles and standards)
- National legislation or labour regulation
- Company activity
The conventions are formulated and then agreed to by international actors (governments, business and trade union representatives at the ILO) – while they afford worker protections, they also aim to improve workers’ terms and conditions of employment on a global scale. They are also there to ensure the world at work remains focused on improving human life and dignity.
International Labour standards are primarily tools for governments which, in consultation with employers and workers, then transpose and implement into national law and policy. For many states this process begins with a decision to consider ratifying an ILO convention.
However, the fundamental conventions apply whether an individual member country has ratified them or not.
- Review current policy either as part of a scheduled review or as a specific activity
- Assess whether wording on workers’ rights and protections is clear
Appraise the scope of worker representation in overlapping areas such as:
health and safety expectations
inclusion and diversity (women’s empowerment)
migrant or bonded labour
projects and programmes
Policy wording and expectation
How implementation of the policy could be supported
Examples of good practice within your supply chains
Requirements for agents, suppliers and producers
Grievance mechanisms for reporting of breeches of policy or denial of workers access to basic workplace representation