The Enforcement of Fundamental Labor Rights in the Manufacturing Sector

Fundamental labor rights are the freedom to form labor unions, to conduct collective bargaining and collective action, the prohibition of child labor, forced labor anddiscrimination in the workplace, and the right to a healthy andsafe workplace.

These rights are enshrined in international treaties of the UN, the ILO, the EU and other international organizations, and included in the national legislation of many countries. Establishing a right on paper through to its implementation and realization in everyday practice is a long and obstacle-ridden process.

A variety of international enforcement mechanisms have so far been developed in order to enforce these rights, in accordance with civil law and public law.

Traditionally, there are public international monitoring procedures such as those provided by the ILO and the UN, involving nation states. However, many other mechanisms have arisen in recent years. Free-trade agreements (whether bilateral and/or regional) include an increasing number of social clauses, with monitored compliance.

The fairly recent UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are realized and enforced through national action plans and the UN Human Rights Council. Last, but not least transnational operating companies adhere to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and create their own Codes of conduct.

The Roundtable on the Enforcement of Fundamental Labor Rights aimed to bring labor rights practitioners, representatives from the international community and the private sector, and academics together to discuss the fragmentation of instruments and mechanisms promoting fundamental labor rights.

Using the 2013 Rana Plaza Disaster as case study, the participants assessed the effectiveness of the various measures which has been put in place in the aftermath of the disaster for corporations with presence in Asian continent.

New forms of fundamental labor rights enforcement mechanisms and the role of the International Labor Organization herein were especially also analyzed. The specific questions which guided the roundtable discussion include the following:

  • One year after Rana Plaza, which preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the different policy responses by states, international organizations and multinational companies? Have these policies been complementary, or is there a lack of coherence?
  • What are the best instruments nowadays to enforce fundamental labor rights?
  • What role does, could or should the ‘old’ ILO play with regard to ‘new’ forms of labor rights enforcement?

This roundtable is part of a series of activities undertaken by the Social Justice Expertise Center, a collaboration between The Hague Institute and Leiden University.

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