IOE views better implementation of existing human and labour rights rather than creating parallel ones as the most effective manner to strengthen them.
Blog by Matthias Thorns, IOE Deputy Secretary-General
Few would disagree that we need more robust efforts to promote and ensure respect for human and labour rights. Yet a proposal by the French standardisation organisation, AFNOR, to establish an International Standards Organisation (ISO) Committee on Social Responsibility will not contribute to and even risks undermining this effort.
AFNOR is proposing to develop standards on specific social responsibility issues and to update ISO 26000. International Organisation of Employers (IOE) believes that the AFNOR initiative risks creating divergence with existing authoritative standards and divert resources away from current implementation efforts.
Why the ILO, IOE and ITUC oppose it
IOE is not alone in its opposition. A cross section of institutions and stakeholders have raised concerns about this proposal. The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Director General Guy Ryder has written to ISO Secretary General Sergio Mujica expressing his dissatisfaction with the initiative. IOE and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published a joint statement opposing it. The three main reasons why employers, trade unions and the ILO all reject the AFNOR proposal are:
- There is the danger that this proposed Technical Committee would undermine and create divergence of universally-accepted and carefully-negotiated standards on human and labour issues. Existing standards on human and labour rights have been developed by governments, in consultation with stakeholders, including trade unions and employers, over a number of years and continue to be developed in areas where there are gaps.
- There is real concern that this proposal would result in the privatisation of social standards. The competence and responsibility for standard-setting on human and labour rights, including responsible business conduct, at the international level lies within the ILO and the United Nations. Authoritative international standards and guidelines – including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, ILO Conventions, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises – have been carefully developed in multi-stakeholder processes, and the guidance tools are publicly-available at no cost. Whereas, ISO standards are subject to copyright protections and must be purchased.
- From an organisational perspective, while ISO convenes small expert groups to address discrete technical issues, its model and membership is not appropriate for addressing larger social issues including on human rights that require truly representative processes.
What is needed is not new ISO standards, but rather scaling-up implementation of existing standards and authoritative texts. 2021 will mark the tenth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. IOE, its member federations in 150 countries and the more than 50 million companies they represent, will do their part to support global implementation of existing human and labour rights over the next decade.