Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rooting out worker rights abuses abroad

Is there anything that the governments of rich countries can do to integrate human rights into the overseas operations of their multinational corporations? Yes, the government of Norway says, and shows how in a recent statement on corporate social responsibility.

That responsibility does not stop at the Norwegian border, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store said in releasing the policy statement, or white paper.

A key element of that policy urges all Norwegian multinationals – about 100 in number – to enter into “global framework agreements” with global unions to safeguard the rights of workers in foreign countries in conformance with core conventions of the UN International Labor Organization.

Among the Norwegian companies that have already taken that step are StatoilHydro, with an agreement covering 29,500 workers in 40 countries, and Norske Skog, a newsprint producer with 11,000 workers worldwide, both with Norwegian unions and their global union, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers Unions. (ICEM).

The white paper states that; in countries that do not respect the right to organize and to bargain, multinationals should seek ways to establish some sort of system that permits the voice of workers to be heard in workplaces.

In addition, the white paper provides guidance on corporate responsibility with regard to decent working conditions, the environment, and anti-corruption among other human rights issues.

The government also intends:

-- to address by legislation, through Accounting Act amendments, the duties of corporations to provide information on their actions to implement ethical guidelines, and

-- to strengthen the Norwegian government's “national contact point” for dealing with worker rights complaints alleging violations of the multinational guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In short, supplementing its efforts to root out worker rights violations through trade negotiations and ILO programs, the Norwegian government intends to use its own powers to regulate corporate behavior beyond its national boundaries.

So far, that’s only an intention, but it’s an intention that the U.S. government would be wise to adopt as its own.
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The government of Australia is considering a similar initiative. See To Embed Huuman Rights in Multinationals.

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