EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Codes of conduct

Codes of conduct are used in EU employment and industrial relations as sources of non-legally enforceable norms (soft law ). They take different forms, ranging from the Code of Practice in 1991 on measures to combat sexual harassment, attached to Council Recommendation 92/131/EEC, the Code of Practice on Equal Pay adopted in 1996 (COM (96) (336) and Codes of Practice on Race Discrimination ((COM (94) 333) and COM (95) 134) to the Council’s Recommendation 92/241/EEC of 1992 on Childcare and the Commission’s Opinion on an Equitable Wage of 1993 (COM (93) 388).

Non-binding codes of conduct are contrasted, often unfavourably, with legally binding norms of EU social law and policy. It is often easier for the EU Member States to accept EU measures in the form of non-binding codes of conduct than legally binding directives. Codes of conduct by their very nature are non-binding and merely persuasive. They rely mainly upon action at national level in order to implement them.

It is important to note, however, that some codes of conduct, despite their non-legally binding nature, may have an impact on the practices and behaviour of public authorities and private individuals, and on employers, employees and their organisations. In some cases, their impact may even exceed that of formally legally binding measures. Whether a code of conduct or a legally binding measure is appropriate for regulation of an area of employment or industrial relations is a matter of political and empirical judgement.

Codes of conduct are also found in other EU contexts. They may be embodied in agreements between the social partners. For example, a code of conduct on labour standards in the textile industry was reached between the employer organisations and trade unions (Euratex and ETUC: TCL) on 10 July 1997, covering 60-70% of enterprises in the sector in Europe. An EU-level code of conduct in the private security sector was signed on 18 July 2003 by the employer organisation, the Confederation of European Security Services (CoESS) and the trade union organisation, Uni-Europa. The private security sector has almost 10,000 enterprises in Europe employing some 600,000 workers, increasing to some 20,000 enterprises and 1.1 million workers following EU enlargement.

Codes of conduct regulating labour standards have also been adopted by multinationals. For example, an agreement between Italian trade unions and the multinational Artsana, which produces Chicco children’s toys in large establishments in China, includes a code of conduct based on all core ILO labour standards. A similar code of conduct agreement was negotiated by the IUF (the food workers’ international) and the French-based hotel chain Accor.

See also: European social partners; joint opinions.

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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