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Corporate Accountability and Workers’ Rights

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The UK government must regulate the actions of transnational companies, including the establishment of a legal framework to determine best practice.

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Groups such as the ILO need more support in their struggle to establish and enforce workers’ rights.

Corporate Responsibility

Many tables discussed questions surrounding international trade issues and corporate responsibility. It was recognised that the British government has made positive steps in this area such as the replacement of the Companies Act in the UK. However, it was established that more needs to be done at EU and international levels to promote and implement the regulation of corporations and to protect the rights of workers. In this country the public assume that companies are held responsible for their actions by legislation regarding environmental protection, worker’s rights, social impact and health and safety standards – they are not allowed to act without regard to the world around them. As such it is widely assumed that companies are similarly held to account for their actions outside of the UK. At present many developing countries lack the capacity to enforce a legal framework similar to that in the UK, and so it is the responsibility of the British government and others to regulate the actions of transnational companies. 

Delegates emphasised the need for the government to intervene in aspects of international trade that have a negative impact on development. One method that was suggested to achieve this was to establish a legal framework for transnational companies that determines levels of best practice. This legislation should cover employment practices including: safety, wages and the rights of workers, as well as environmental issues and responsibility. There was a general belief that voluntary codes of practice are too open to abuse and as such any legislation should include the necessity of independent audits and monitoring as well as mechanisms for enforcement. The UK government must be bold and assertive to drive forward changes that work in favour of developing countries and their people, even if this means standing against big company interests.  

Workers Rights

The government should also support the rights of workers around the world including their right to organise – greater support should be given to groups working in this area such as the International Labour Organisation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains two articles that enshrine the rights of workers. Firstly article 23 states that: 

Everyone has the right to work, … to just and favourable conditions of work … to equal pay for equal work … to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection … to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests

Whilst article 25 states that: 

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care. 

To achieve this workers need to be paid an adequate wage. There should be a legal framework that holds companies to account in terms of the wages that are paid to their workers. Whilst we cannot dictate a global minimum wage, all workers have the right to a living wage and to work in conditions that are safe. It was acknowledged by Rt. Hon Hilary Benn that pressure from consumers, supported by the actions of governments, is of the utmost importance for bringing change, and as such we would encourage the government to press for legally enforced change in the international arena.

 

Updated 23 September 2007   

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