Successful Launch of SJEC Practitioners’ Training

The Social Justice Expertise Center (SJEC) organized a successful training for Dutch labor rights lawyers on 3 November. The training, organized together with the Leiden Law School Post Academic Education (JPAO) unit welcomed approximately twenty participants from, among others, Dutch ministries, law firms, sustainability certification organizations and employment agencies. The aim of the training was to raise awareness among the participants concerning the influence of international labor standards on their daily (legal) practices. Speakers at the five-hour training were Professor Paul van der Heijden of Leiden University and SJEC, Dr. Beryl ter Haar of Leiden University and Mr. Ruben Zandvliet of ABN AMRO N.V.

Professor Van der Heijden started his presentation with the role of corporate social responsibility in advancing the implementation of fundamental labor rights over the past decades. He discussed the international sources of fundamental labor rights which include conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), UN human rights treaties, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and private sector initiated frameworks. He further delved into the supervisory mechanism of the ILO with regards to the enforcement of fundamental labor principles: freedom of association and collective bargaining, the right to strike, prohibition of forced and child labor, the elimination of all forms of discrimination and health and safety at work. He discussed the role of the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Standards and Recommendations in reviewing and reporting on the observance of ILO Conventions by State Parties. Participants were also informed about procedures of the Committee on the Application of Standards as well as the Committee of Freedom of Association, the latter solely focusing on the alleged violations of collective bargaining and freedom of association principles. The Representation and Commission of Inquiry mechanisms in the ILO Constitution were also discussed. Regarding non-ILO enforcement of fundamental labor rights, Professor Van der Heijden discussed the OECD National Contact Point mechanism, especially in relation to the U.S. NCP Nissan-Renault Case, which illustrates how certain multinational enterprises rely on local practices to justify non-observance of international labor standards by subsidiary companies.

Mr. Ruben Zandvliet discussed the evolution of labor rights in trade and investment agreements. He informed the participants about the debate concerning how trade and investment agreements could pressure governments to lower their labor rights protection. In his view examples of such practice were the designation of export processing zones in certain countries and the ‘Hobbit labor law amendment’ by New Zealand in 2010 which provided incentives for Warner Bros to use the country as a film location whilst reducing the level of protection of workers in the film industry. Methods of preventing such developments in the future include the introduction of social clauses in trade agreements which forbid contracting States from deregulation with the aim of favoring investors.  In addition to prohibiting deregulation, social clauses provide governments with the freedom to protect fundamental labor rights. It also promotes responsible and sustainable business practices among investors.  Social clauses can, nowadays, be found in many trade and investment agreements for example the Canada-Peru FTA (2009) and the ECOWAS Community Rules on Investment (2008). The implementation of social clauses can be secured through pre-ratification implementation plans, cooperation and capacity building initiatives as well as special dispute settlement regimes. Mr. Zandvliet discussed several examples of labor rights related trade disputes. He especially focused on the U.S-Guatemala Case concerning the alleged violation of the social clause in the U.S. CAFTA-DR trade agreement concerning the freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, the first labor rights dispute under a free trade agreement. Mr Zandvliet concluded by emphasizing the importance of ILO reports for trade unions in providing evidence of labor violations during trade and investment disputes.

Dr. Beryl ter Haar provided a lecture on the use of international framework agreements (IFAs) to promote the implementation of fundamental labor rights. Although there is no standard definition of IFAs these are usually described as a transnational agreement between a multinational enterprise and a global union federation (GUF) aimed at ensuring that the company observes international labor standards in all countries where it operates. Since the first IFA, signed by Danone France in 1988, over fifty of such agreements have been enacted. Good examples of IFAs are those of Chiquita, Ford and H&M. According to Dr. Ter Haar, the conclusion of an IFA is not the end result, instead it is the start of a process based on ongoing dialogue, engagement aiming to change of business ethics and practices.  The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety in the clothing industry is an innovative example of IFAs as it also contains employment protection and a strong dispute settlement mechanism in the form of arbitration. Dr. Ter Haar concluded her lecture by discussing the relevance of the concept of due diligence for companies in their efforts to implement IFA provisions.

After the lectures the participants were asked to solve (fictive) cases involving labor rights violations using the information from the lectures. The SJEC-JPAO training is the first in a series of biannual workshops the Center aims to organize for labor rights practitioners and CSR managers as part of its goal to promote the implementation of fundamental labor rights on the ground.

The Social Justice Expertise Center is a collaboration between The Hague Institute and Leiden University Law School that undertakes policy research and capacity building projects in the field of international labor rights. Additional information about the center can be accessed via here.

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