Campaign for social standards among German global players
The Critical Shareholders group has launched a 1997 campaign seeking the observation of global social standards by German transnational corporations.
The confederation of Critical Shareholders (Kritische Aktionäre) is an alliance of about 35 small shareholders' groups and other non-governmental organisations such as environmental, consumer and anti-militaristic groups. Currently, the Critical Shareholders are active in about 40 German corporations including the most important German banks as well as various industrial corporations in the automobile, electronic, chemical and food industries. They can call on up to 5% of the votes cast in some of the companies.
The particular aim of the Critical Shareholders is "not only to ask how high their dividends are, but also where they come from". They have, therefore, started campaigns in various German corporations demanding more environmental protection, product liability, more social justice, and the maintenance of human rights. The group's most recent initiative is a campaign on basic social standards in German transnational corporations. Having documented several cases in which the employees of these corporations' foreign subsidiaries are working under social and health conditions which would not be acceptable in Germany, the Critical Shareholders have heavily criticised the alleged use of "double standards" by German corporations.
In the view of the Critical Shareholders, German transnational corporations should take global social responsibility in guaranteeing the same basic social standards in their subsidiaries all over the world. Referring to the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) the Critical Shareholders have developed the following questionnaire addressed to the boards of directors about companies' practices with regards to worldwide social standards. It has been announced that this questionnaire will be put forward at the 1997 annual meetings of the companies concerned:
- How can the board guarantee that no one is discriminated against on the basis of his or her sex, religion, ethnicity or any other social characteristic?
- How can the board guarantee that no one is discriminated against on the basis of his or her activities in politics or for unions?
- How can the board guarantee that the work of unions will not be interfered with, that the employees may freely organise unions and that they may freely and without any pressure or hindrance from the management form company-internal interest groups?
- How can the board guarantee that the interest groups of the employees of all plants anywhere in the world may communicate with each other without any hindrance or monitoring and may form regional, national, or international groupings according to their own judgment?
- How can the board guarantee that no forced, prison, or child labour is used?
- How can the board guarantee that the same social standards apply in all operations worldwide regardless of national laws and regulations - especially the standards for work safety?
- Finally, what is the board's attitude towards the Conventions in which the ILO has defined minimum social standards. Are they officially recognised by the company? Have they been put completely into practice? And if not, why not?