Living Wages: The GRI's Missing Link
Álvaro J. de Regil
The new GRI's "G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines" fails, once again, to address the critical issue of living wages and relies on the same old multilateral norms that condone the corporate practice of paying misery wages in most countries in the South, despite the fact that a living wage has long been declared a human right. There is an implicit missing link in the world's pursuit of true sustainability.
The GRI claims to be the result of a permanent interaction with many people that supposedly represents a wide variety of stakeholders relative to the impact of the activity of business around the world. Yet, these groups appear to represent only those who are "practitioners" of the GRI framework and not of the entire spectrum that would represent all sectors of global civil society as a whole. The fact is that living wages continue to be absent, as a reporting indicator, from the GRI framework.
In this way, the absence of the critical issue of a living wage leads to the conclusion that there is a consistency in the avoidance of this issue by the process followed by the GRI multi-stakeholder working groups, at least since 2002, supposedly created to continuously improve its reporting guidelines. In a globalised economy, we have endured the globalisation of labour markets, prices and consumers but not of labour endowments. The benefits have been privatised, but the costs have been socialized. Nonetheless, the grim and unavoidable reality is that there cannot be sustainability without social justice. Yet, living wages is an element that has been systematically excluded by multilateral organisations, governments and the so-called multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the GRI. To the credit of the GRI, our perception is that they are, by far, the organisation most open to engaging all sectors of global civil society and somehow listen to their views. Yet, the GRI too, has ignored our call to review the Guidelines addressing the issue of wages and labour compensations. Thus, the GRI framework continues suffering from the missing link in true sustainability: the reporting by corporations of whether their labour endowments provide workers with a living wage or with exploitative wages of servitude, as is the rule-of-thumb for corporations active in the South.
This paper also discusses other G3 limitations of major concern, namely, the continued extreme flexibility in the use of the guidelines in a global context of voluntary reporting relative to how the activity of business affects economic, social and environmental sustainability.