Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guidelines for business and human rights

It’s a new paradigm on business and human rights that “recognizes the central role that States need to play, gives business predictability in what is expected of them, and provides other stakeholders, including civil society and investors, the tools to measure progress where it matters most – in the daily lives of people.”

That’s how Harvard Professor John Ruggie, UN Special Representative for business and human rights, describes a set of “Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights,” which he is presenting to the June session of the UN Human Rights Council for approval.

The Guiding Principles are the product of six years of research and extensive consultations involving governments, companies, business associations, civil society (including unions), affected individuals and groups, investors, and others around the world. The 27-page document outlines how the UN “Protect, Respect, and Remedy” Framework, proposed by Ruggie in 2008 and unanimously approved by the Council the same year, should be implemented.

For details, see

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Lenten thoughts on unions facing crises

The season of Lent is a time when you can make an examination of conscience to reflect on your life and how to make it better. You can do so as an individual in examining your family life, but also in examining your working life.

Let’s say you are a union leader. What might be the scope and substance of your examination of conscience?

Here is an illustration taken from a major address that Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers, gave in June last year to the Center for Automotive Research Conference. Titled “A UAW for the 21st,century,” the speech drew on King’s 41 years in the UAW. It was a product of intense reflection on the state of his union both before and after the crisis of 2008-2009.

“Although triggered by the financial meltdown,” he said, “the crisis in the auto industry had its roots in behaviors and cultures – both within the companies and within the union – that were outmoded and unsuited for the 21stcentury…. The UAW of the 21st century must be fundamentally different from the UAW of the 20st century.”

The 20st century UAW, he said:

-- grew in an era of national rather than global economics, where employers did not face the intense pressure of global competition. The 21st-century UAW recognizes that flexibility, innovation, lean manufacturing and continuous cost improvement are paramount in the global marketplace.

-- joined with the companies in a mindset that it was the company’s job to worry about profits, and the union’s job to worry about getting the workers their fair share. The 21st-century UAW embraces as our own the mission of producing the highest quality, best value products for our customers.

-- was not primarily focused on the needs of the consumers, and we failed to champion forcefully or effectively enough the goals of preserving our environment for future generations through green manufacturing. The 21st-century UAW makes as a priority the interests of consumer safety, energy efficiency, and environmental protection.

-- fell into a pattern with our employers where we saw each other as adversaries rather than partners… Our new relationships with these employers are built upon a foundation of respect, shared goals, and a common mission.

-- tried to find ways to achieve job security, such as job banks, that in the end did not achieve the result we were seeking. The 21st-century UAW knows that the only true path to job security is by producing the best quality product, the safest product and the longest lasting product, at the best price.

-- reacted with hostility and resistance to the historic changes brought about by the globalization of the economy. The 21st-century UAW is adopting a constructive and positive approach to global trade and global development, and we are committed to being citizens of the world and achieving trade that spreads prosperity and lessens poverty.
King’s outline, even for a large national union with a global reach, offers ideas that could be adapted to other kinds of unions – even to U.S. unions in the public sector coping with their own crises. Take this variation on one of King’s points:

Our union will join our governmental counterparts in our joint mission to render the highest quality and best value service for the public.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

China moves ahead a bit, Wisconsin back a lot

As Wisconsin is stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights, months of collective bargaining at a Honda parts plant in Guangdong between management and the local unit of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions won a substantial pay increase for workers on March 1.

According to “China Labor Bulletin,“ published in Hong Kong, the vice chairman of the Guangdong provincial labor federation became personally involved in the plant’s labor relations after a strike broke out there in May last year.

Although the union pressed hard for the worker demands, it left the workers on the sidelines, with 40 of them observing but not participating in the negotiations.

Han Dongfang, CLB director, commented: “Hopefully this will be the first step toward proper collective bargaining and that during the next round of bargaining, democratically-elected worker representatives will be allowed to conduct rather than just observe the negotiations.” Read more!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Family values devalued in U.S.

The United States lags far behind most countries in ensuring the wellbeing of its working families, Human Rights Watch says in a new report “Failing Its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the U.S.”

At least 178 countries have national laws that guarantee paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 also guarantee paid leave for new fathers. More than 100 of those countries offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave for new mothers.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does enable workers with new children or family members with serious medical to take job-protected leave, but it is unpaid and covers only about half of the workforce.

The adoption of laws to enable workers around the world to meet work and family obligations has largely been in response to the massive growth in women’s participation in the labor force lover the last century. Even though women now are nearly half of the work force in the U.S., the federal and state governments have changed little to support the modern workforce.

As a result, says Janet Walsh, deputy women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, “Workers face grave health, financial, and career repercussions. U.S. employers miss productivity gains and turnover savings that these cost-effective policies generate in other countries.

Research for the 90-page report included interviews with 64 parents across the country.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Public employees get public backing

The strategy of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to clamp down on public sector unions is not supported by most Americans, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Key findings of the telephone poll, as reported in the Feb. 28 issue of the Times:

-- By a majority of nearly two to one (60% to 33%), Americans oppose weakening the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions.

-- By almost the same margin (56% to 35%), those surveyed also oppose cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce benefits.

-- About 61% said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either “about right” or “too low” for the work they do. Print Page

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