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Quality issues: labour and child rights

Labour rights

Enterprises, governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations are important in ensuring that commitments pertaining to employment, environmental and health standards, are met in line with relevant international standards and agreements. Many enterprises have adopted policies governing labour and employment aspects of their operations as part of their longer-term sustainability strategies, translating their international commitments into national legislation. 

International labour standards lay down the basic minimum social standards agreed upon by all players in the global economy. They are either conventions, which are legally binding international treaties that may be ratified by Member States and translated into national legislation, or recommendations, which serve as non-binding guidelines. Whilst not directly binding on enterprises if not integrated in national legislation, the principles derived from the conventions and recommendations adopted by the ILO act as a guide for enterprises’ behaviour worldwide.

The Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) is of particular relevance in the context of the SDGs. It seeks to encourage the positive contribution that enterprises can make to economic and social progress and to minimize and resolve the difficulties to which their various operations may give raise. As the only ILO instrument directly addressed to enterprises, it translates the principles derived from international labour standards into guidance for company operations. It also addresses governments and social partners on the need for a conducive legislative and policy framework to fully harness the contribution of private sector action for inclusive growth and decent work.

Some governments are increasingly introducing policies and initiatives to stimulate sustainable and responsible business behaviour of foreign MNEs in their countries. An example is the Social Responsibility Council for Sustainable Development in Chile, which advises the minister of economy on the development of policies relating to social responsibility and coordinates the various state organisms, the private sector and civil society. In addition, home countries of MNEs often oversee MNEs activity in other parts of the world. There are examples at the regional level such as the CSR Policy for the Extractive Sector in Mozambique and the African Mining Vision adopted by the African Union, which establish a regional policy framework to better harness the opportunities of the extractive industry for inclusive growth in Africa and recognize that public policies need to be in place to better align private polices with national and local development priorities. Over the past two decades, governments have increasingly integrated labour provisions in investment and trade agreements. The North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC) added a social dimension to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to advance the contribution of FDI and trade to socioeconomic development.

Targets in SDG 8 of relevance to enterprises and role of ILO

Selected targets of direct relevance for enterprises:

8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services;

8.5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value;

8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training;

8.7 Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms;

8.8 Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.

ILO seeks to encourage the positive contribution that (multinational) enterprises can make to economic and social progress and to minimize and resolve the difficulties to which their various operations may give raise. As the only ILO instrument directly addressed to enterprises, it translates the principles derived from international labour standards into guidance for company operations.  In addition, Decent Work Country Programmes have been established in ILO member States to promote decent work as a key component of national development strategies, identifying the decent work challenges to be addressed and opportunities to be enhanced. Country objectives are agreed with employers’ and workers’ organizations and are the main vehicle for delivery of ILO support to countries. By aligning their initiatives with these national decent work priorities, enterprises can make a major contribution to the realization of decent work, both a means and a goal of sustainable development.

Child rights

Child labour deprives children of their childhood, health and education. It also reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty, undermines national economies and impedes progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Child labour remains significant, though it has been declining. Globally, the number of children in child labour declined more than a third from 2000 to 2016, from 246 to 152 million. Nearly half of them, 73 million, are in hazardous work (down from 171 million in 2000). Africa and Oceania have the largest proportion of child labours. In LDCs, one in four children ages 5 to 17 are engaged in labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development.

The number of ratifications of conventions that tackle child labour has increased rapidly in recent years, including International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 138 concerning minimum age for admission to employment and Recommendation No. 146 (1973); ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour and Recommendation No. 190 (1999). These conventions frame the concept of child rights and child labour issues and form the basis for relevant legislation enacted by signatory states. Monitoring the commitment to enforce child rights and eliminate child labour can draw on periodic reports of States parties under the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). New guidelines for reporting on resources allocated to these purposes are outlined in the General Comment on public budgeting for the realization of children’s rights under Article 4 of the CRC (coordinated through CRC). Child rights legislation and enforcement is also supported at the country level by relevant stakeholders, such as UNICEF and other technical and child-focused agencies and stakeholders. Examples include regular reports on the State of the World’s Children (UNICEF) and the Child Protection Monitoring and Evaluation Reference Group (CP MERG).