Black Lives Matter: Putting Human Rights at the Heart of Corporate Responses

All businesses have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to take action to respect human rights in connection with their own operations and their extended value chain. This responsibility is a globally acknowledged and expected standard of conduct that is increasingly reflected in national laws, the expectations of investors, NGO and trade union advocacy, the standards set by influential industry bodies and the commitments of companies themselves. In the US, the Department of State actively promotes the UN Guiding Principles to US companies.

We see three main ways in which companies need to grapple with these human rights harms – both the immediate risks to protestors as well as the underlying inequalities that the BLM movement is raising.

These are: 

  1. Connections to short-term risks to protestors’ safety and freedom of speech
  2. Connections between a company’s own operations and racial discrimination over the long-term
  3. Company involvement in broader advocacy on BLM policy goals

COVID-19 and Human Rights: Impacts and Business Action in the Seafood Sector

This webinar –organized by the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions— focused on:

  1. The experience of people on the frontlines of seafood production across geographies (focus on the Global South) with regard to human rights, health and safety, and equity before and during COVID-19
  2. Current efforts and interventions to address these issues and where new approaches are needed, and if the impacts of COVID-19 requires new/different interventions, and
  3. The role NGOs and seafood companies can play to support efforts and address the needs of workers and communities.

Panelists included Neill Wilkins, Head of Migrant Workers Programme (IHRB); Ines Lopez, Catalyst of Change (COBI); and Francis West, Shift’s Business Engagement Director.

Making Rights-Respecting Business Decisions in a COVID-19 World

Everywhere, human rights are at risk from the impacts of COVID-19. People around the world fear for their life and healthlivelihoodscivil liberties and privacy, to name just a few issues. At the same time, many businesses are facing existential threats, as they seek to survive or adapt to a new and unprecedented reality. As they make painful decisions, companies need to bring precision thinking to how their choices will impact the lives of people that work for, depend on, or are otherwise connected to their business.

This resource offers focuses on five approaches that companies can put in practice to ensure that they are making rights-respecting decisions:

  1. Apply the lens of vulnerability to prioritize action
  2. Involve relevant stakeholders in critical decision-making processes
  3. Use leverage with governments on policy responses
  4. Communicate your actions clearly
  5. Have honest decisions about risks that are baked into the business model

The last page on this resource is an annex that can help companies get started on identifying the increased or new human rights risks that arise as a consequence of the pandemic.

Respetar los Derechos Sindicales en las Cadenas Globales de Valor

This resource is also available in ENGLISH.

Seguido, las empresas tienen dificultades para identificar e implementar acciones significativas que atiendan los riesgos a los derechos sindicales en sus cadenas globales de valor. Ello por distintos factores:

  • Externos, como los que surgen del contexto en el que operan y en el que se extienden sus cadenas de valor. Ello incluye las leyes y regulaciones, el estado de derecho, las prácticas sociales que enmarcan las percepciones culturales sobre los sindicatos y la capacidad local de sindicatos y empresas socias para llevar a cabo acciones en la práctica.
  • Modelos de negocio, que pueden resultar en riesgos exacerbados a los derechos sindicales si no son propiamente administrados. Ello incluye el tener insumos de mercados de alto riesgo (o bajo costo), el uso intensivo de trabajadores contratistas o temporales, y las propias práctiacas de adquisición de las empresas.
  • La cultura corporativa y las prácticas empresariales, lo que puede incluir suposiciones y actitudes hacia los sindicatos por parte de las oficinas centrales, así como debilidades en el proceso de debida diligencia.

En la parte 2.2 de esta publicación se incluye también una herramienta de diagnóstico, que puede servir para que las empresas entiendan cómo y dónde pueden existir los riesgos para los derechos sindicales. 

Asimismo, se delinean algunos ejemplos de pasos que pueden tomar las empresas dependiendo de los riesgos que existen, y ocho casos práticos de casos reales en los que otras empresas han logrado sobrepasar estos retos. 

Realizing Trade Union Rights: Diagnosing Barriers and Moving to Action

Between 2010-2014, the Peruvian fruit growing company Composol was in ceaseless conflict with its workers and their union representatives. It had strong turnover of staff, low motivation among those remaining, and, according to its own accounts, very high litigation cost due to constant cases before the labor courts. The company’s labor troubles were even featured as a prominent case example in complaints filed by Peruvian and international unions with the US Department of Labor and the European Commission related to beneficial trade agreements.

It was not until 2014 that the company started to realize how much of an impact this was having on its business, and decided more meaningful action was necessary. Together with local and internationally focused unions and business associations, the company embarked on a path towards fully embracing social dialogue and trade union rights. Through a process of trust-building, negation training and capacity building on labor rights -among others- the company and unions were able to fundamentally transform their relationship. In addition to more satisfied workers and meeting company commitments, results also included lowered costs in recruitment, transportation and legal fees, among many others.In the words of Javier Morales, Camposol’s Managing Director of the Fruit and Vegetable Division: “We have been able to be profitable while focusing on people. (…) Now workers come to Camposol because they choose to, not because they have to as in the past. Competitors are raising the salaries to attract workers more but it is not the only thing that workers seek. What they seek is also a healthy emotional relationship with their employer. We demonstrate that we can align the interests of workers and shareholders.” Perhaps most central to turning things around was the realization that in order to ensure respect for trade union rights companies need to take proactive steps to realize them in practice. This, in a nutshell, is the key message of our newest publication ‘Respecting Trade Union Rights in Global Value Chains’, developed with Mondiaal FNV, to help companies approach trade union rights proactively.

What are trade union rights?

What are trade union rights?

Freedom of association and the rights to collective bargaining (collectively referred to in the publication as “trade union rights”) are recognized by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as one of a set of four core labor standards that all governments and companies should adhere to. While they are fundamental rights in and of themselves, trade union rights are also recognized as “enabling rights,” meaning that respecting these rights can often lead to the fulfillment of a number of other labor rights, including adequate wages, reasonable working hours, workplace safety, and a work environment free from discrimination and harassment.

Action on trade union rights is hard…

Those who have worked on trade union rights know that this is all easier said than done.

While many companies list respect for trade union rights in their policy commitments, pledge to adhere to industry standards, and participate in multi-stakeholder initiatives, many still struggle to identify and implement meaningful action to address the risks to trade union rights in their global value chains. 

In our work with Mondiaal FNV we recognized three categories of barriers that often create challenges for global companies to ensure respect for trade union rights in their global operations and value chains:

  1. External factors: Respecting trade union rights in many contexts can be extremely challenging: local laws may prohibit them, union-relations may be seen to be political, and local business partners may not see the value in changing what already works.
  2. Business models and practices: some companies have risks embedded in how they are structured or in how they operate. For instance, extensive reliance on contract labor, or sourcing strategies that rely upon production in markets with lower labor costs and often weaker labor protections.
  3. Internal company governance and due diligence pitfalls: a number of challenges arise from weaknesses in corporate governance and due diligence. For example, a lack of understanding of trade union rights, limited visibility into conditions in the supply chain, or strong commitments on paper not being translated into action on the ground.

Our publication provides a detailed diagnostic tool with simple questions to help companies identify the specific barriers they might face in a particular context or relationship. 


… but there are ideas and experiences to inspire action

We have seen that those companies who identify their salient human rights issues (one of the practical steps the publication suggests) now often include freedom of association and right to collective bargaining among them. I believe it reflects a broader understanding of how interconnected human rights impacts are and that one of the most sustainable ways to improve human rights for workers—in a way that also brings benefits to business—is to give workers a voice and take proactive steps to reduce barriers and reinforce constructive relationships that enable them to organize, make their voice heard and take a stake in the long-term interest of the company.

But identifying trade union rights as important is only the first step. We need to move to action. Our work with companies on these issues has surfaced a range of practical approaches companies are taking to address these barriers in new and meaningful ways.  Whether it is the Freedom of Association protocol that was developed by apparel and footwear companies with local suppliers and stakeholders in Indonesia to address the locally challenging context for trade union rights or the way that companies have collaborated in Mexico to jointly apply leverage to improve union relations.

Different types of approaches are almost certainly going to be necessary to address the range of situations a company might face and the different types of barriers that may be present.  The resource offers a continuum of different types of leverage that can be applied internally and externally, with practical case examples to illustrate these approaches in practice:  for example, working jointly with peer companies and international and local trade unions to advance collective bargaining to improve living wages in the garment sector, or exerting collective leverage with peers vis-à-vis a government to improve laws and regulations that protect trade union rights (both of which have concrete case examples in the publication).

Our aim is to inspire companies with ideas for concrete action, to move from recognizing risks to trade union rights to taking meaningful action to address those risks, by drawing from a menu of potential options for action. We hope it can provide companies with a roadmap for developing thoughtful, meaningful and targeted actions necessary to tackle these issues more effectively in practice.

Business Learning Resources

Handling and Resolving Local-Level Concerns and Grievances

Shift worked with ICMM in 2018 and 2019 to update the guidance they provide to their members on how to put in place effective operational-level grievance mechanisms, in line with the effectiveness criteria of the UN Guiding Principles. Our role included co-facilitating workshops with ICMM members; developing case studies with the support of ICMM members and inputting into the new guidance.

Respecting Trade Union Rights in Global Value Chains: Practical Approaches for Business

Este reporte también se encuentra disponible en español.

Often, companies struggle to identify and implement meaningful action to address risks to trade union rights in their global value chains. This is due to a range of factors:

  • External factors arise from the contexts in which global companies operate, and into which their global value chains extend. This includes relevant laws and regulations and their implementation, the social practices that shape perceptions of trade unions, and the local capacity of trade unions and business partners to claim or respect these rights in practice.
  • Business models, which can create heightened risks to trade union rights if not properly managed. These include sourcing from high-risk (and lower cost) markets, extensive use of contract or temporary labor, and a company’s own purchasing practices.
  • Corporate culture and business practices, which can include assumptions and attitudes towards trade unions at headquarters, and weaknesses or common pitfalls in due diligence processes. 

Included in this resource is a diagnostic tool in Part 2.2 to help companies assess where and why they might face heightened risks to trade union rights.

The resource also highlights a range of practical steps companies can take depending on the risk factors that are present. Additionally, it showcases eight examples of how real companies have approached trade union rights in practice.

SMEs and the Responsibility to Respect Human Rights

In April 2019, Shift and the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) co-convened a workshop to explore the challenges, experiences and leading practices of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in fulfilling their responsibility to respect human rights. This summary note, published by IOE, provides an overview of the key takeaways.

Also read: SMEs and the Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights: Busting the Myth that Bigger is Always Better