European corporations criticised for workers’ rights violations

2 Sep

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has just published a new report on its website, ‘A Strange Case’ highlighting the questionable labor practices of supposedly law abiding European corporations in America.

According to the report summary, some of these companies ‘act directly contrary to ILO conventions and other international instruments… In other cases they engage in threats and forms of intimidation and coercion that violate US labor law as well as international standards’.

While part of the reason lies with U.S workplace legislation which often falls short of international benchmarks, the report claims that this does not necessarily allow European companies to lower their own labor standards especially since many of them are parties to UN, EU and other international documents focusing on corporate social responsibility principles, policies, programs, and codes of conduct on workers’ rights. Within EU, many also ‘deal forthrightly with workers’ representatives in European trade unions and works councils, often celebrating the “social dialogue” that marks labor relations in Europe’.

In entitling their report ‘A Strange Case’, one wonders if HRW has been existing within a twilight zone. The dubious labor practices of corporations especially in jurisdictions with non-existent worker’s rights have been widely documented over the years. The Burma Campaign UK, for instance, generates a list of corporations that have profited within the military dictatorship. One of the country’s corporate investor is the French corporation, TOTAL Oil that is still operating in Burma.

Nevertheless, this is a much welcomed report from HRW. It shows that corporations are not only often willing to violate labor rights (even when they have signed various agreements to uphold them), but that internationally agreed standards are pretty much unenforceable especially if the state does not recognise them in the first place.

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