Juan Somavía, Director General of the ILO, when he talked about what fair globalisation should be, declared that the decent-work concept has led to an international consensus that productive employment and decent work are key elements to achieving poverty reduction.1 In great contrast, business and governments have done everything possible to globalise the demands of institutional investors to protect their shareholder values through a variety of instruments, among them trade treaties and investment rules. Thus, these rules universalise access to consumer markets and labour and globalise as well the prices of goods and services.

Nonetheless, it is impossible for these actors to grasp why it is necessary to universalise, in a universal market context, the rules of business responsibility and much less the payment of living wages, in a universal and binding context. Where was the international consensus that Somavia referred to left? Without being overly dramatic, questioning the need for a universal framework, at this stage, seems to be a blatant act of cynicism. It could be understood as a rhetorical question, but regarding a universal framework as an outstanding issue clearly conveys the message that its need is still in doubt, despite the enormous inequality that depicts our era, which makes this question reprehensible.

In this way, it is of no surprise that the position of the ILO concerning the social responsibilities of business is fully in line with the corporate vision and that of governments as agents of a market-profit-over-people-and-planet-driven world. Thus, the ILO describes CSR as "a business-driven voluntary initiative", which refers to activities that are considered to exceed compliance with the law. To be sure, the ILO asserts that CSR "cannot substitute for legal regulation". Yet given that current international law does not address at all critical issues such as the obligation of corporations to pay living wages –as a basic element of any sustainable business– the ILO is clearly aligned with the current Darwinian paradigm where the market reigns supreme, in stark contrast with fundamental universal principles such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which clearly states the need to pay wages worthy of human dignity in its Article 23.

In essence, the ILO's position regarding CSR is completely in line with corporate interest and recommends that governments should encourage the voluntary concept of CSR.2 Congruent with this position, the need to develop a universal framework of legally-binding standards that becomes the international law governing the social and environmental responsibilities of business is not addressed whatsoever. No mention as well of the exploitative wages that multinationals customarily pay in the South is made in the ILO’s Tripartite Declaration or in subsequent papers, despite all the ILO's talk of the importance of its so called "Decent Work Agenda." Indeed, there is a complete incongruence between the mandate of the ILO "to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity,” and its aligment with the corporate vision.3

Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises (MNE) and Social Policy

The International Labour Organization's MNE Declaration promotes partnerships and cooperation between business, labour and governments that maximize the positive contributions that investment by multinational enterprises can make to economic and social progress and help resolve difficulties to which such investment may give rise.
Click here to Download the declaration (pdf)

Decent Work Agenda

The Decent Work Agenda is a practical agenda rooted in the "real world" and founded on the understanding that work is a source of personal dignity, family stability, peace in the community, "democracies that deliver for people", and economic growth that expands opportunities for productive jobs and enterprise development. Clicke here to download a brief on the key facts of the Decent Work Agenda.

Decent work, standards and indicators

This paper presents a highly detailed and comprehensive method for constructing country profiles based on normative indicators as a tool for progress towards decent work. Country profiles on occupational safety and health (OSH) are available for a large number of countries. Click here to Download the pdf file

Management and Corporate Citizenship Programme

Decent jobs are created and sustained in productive and viable enterprises. In a world of rapidly globalizing economy, enterprises face a dynamic business environment that requires them to be productive and competitive to survive and grow. At the same time, with a better informed and demanding society, the enterprises' long-term business viability increasingly depends on meeting the social expectations that come with their important roles as corporate citizens of the local and international community.

The Management and Corporate Citizenship Programme of the ILO helps build the supportive systems and the managerial competencies that enable enterprises to be productive, competitive and viable and at the same time meet the increasing social expectations on business. Click here to access the programme.

1. International Labour Organisation. Facts on Decent Work. June 2006
2. Conclusions concerning the promotion of sustainable enterprises International Labour Conference, June 2007
ILO, Decent work, Report of the Director-General, International Labour Conference (ILC), 87th Session, Geneva, 1999, page 3.



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