Promoting respect for labour rights is core to the work of the United Nations Global Compact. Respect for workers’ rights and compliance with labour standards are the foundation of decent work. Despite progress, decent work deficits remain alarmingly widespread. Advancing decent work and raising the living standards of all workers across operations and supply chains require all companies to adopt sustainable, responsible and inclusive workplace practices, and for companies with supply chains to use their leverage with suppliers to contribute to the realization of decent work globally.
Understanding the issue
- Almost one in ten children are subject to child labour or 160 million children globally, a number that has risen for the first time in two decades
- 28 million people are in situations of forced labour
- More than 630 million workers worldwide — that is, almost one in five, or 19%, of all those employed — did not earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of extreme or moderate poverty
- Each day 7,500 people die from unsafe and unhealthy working conditions
- 74% of countries exclude workers from the right to establish and join a trade union, while 79% of countries violate the right to collective bargaining, and 64 countries deny or constrain freedom of speech and assembly
- Hundreds of millions of people suffer from discrimination in the world of work because of their skin colour, ethnicity or social origin, religion or political beliefs, age, gender, sexual identity or orientation, disability or because of their HIV status
The UN Global Compact provides guidance and support to strengthen business respect for labour standards by embedding and implementing the UN Global Compact Labour Principles (Principles 3, 4, 5 and 6) within all aspects of business operations to provide and promote decent work for all workers.
Decent work involves employment that is productive and delivers a fair income. It also should ensure workplace security, social protection, better prospects for personal development and social integration. Businesses should also focus on non-discrimination, equal opportunities and treatment (including for men and women), and freedom to express workplace concerns.
Decent work is good for society and for business. Companies that uphold labour standards across their own operations and value chains face a lower risk of reputational damage and legal liability. Instituting non-discriminatory practices and embracing diversity and inclusion will also lead to greater access to skilled, productive talent. Respect for the right of workers to organize and good industrial relations in the workplace help to facilitate the development of social capital that enhances employee engagement and staff retention and thereby increases productivity and performance.
Advancing decent work means that companies respect workers' rights and take action to improve working conditions for all workers engaged in their operations. This includes that companies should take action to adopt sustainable procurement, provide and promote living wages in their own operations and throughout their value chains, adopt sound occupational safety and health practices, and take action to eliminate child labour and forced labour. Practices that demonstrate respect for workers’ human rights and labour rights are part of business responsibility. Companies are under increasing pressure to conduct due diligence on human rights issues in their own operations and with business partners in their supply chains. Labour rights have become a critical component and crucial pillar of any due diligence process.
Companies can demonstrate respect for labour rights and advance decent work by making ambitious commitments to improve the lives of workers and taking action to translate policies into practices, including in their supply chains. Companies need to step up their due diligence on human rights to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for all adverse Impacts on workers in their operations and value chains, which will help tackle human rights and labour rights issues as well as decent work deficits.
- Over 100 companies pledged to eliminate child labour as part of the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour
- 12 companies and 11 international organizations engaged in the Think Lab on Living Wage to identify ways to encourage a growing number of companies to make ambitious commitments on living wage and mainstream the practice of integrating living wage into a company’s social sustainability strategy.
- The UN Global annual survey in 2021 showed that 94% of the responding companies have a labour policy in pace but only 29% of companies conduct impact assessments for labour rights. About two-thirds report having policies on not using or benefiting from child and forced labour (69% and 68%, respectively). Most (88%) companies report having policies in place to ensure safe working conditions. Only 18% of respondents require supply chain partners to adhere to the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact.
Ways to Engage