Labour standards represent core values which it is agreed should apply in all workplaces. In recent years, social partners have concluded a number of labour standards agreements with employers, establishing the minimum labour standards to apply in all of an employer’s undertakings. These agreements generally cover co-operation, responsibility and social dialogue and are particularly a feature of large companies with global interests.
Agreements setting down minimum labour standards in this way often also commit the employer to respecting the minimum standards contained in International Labour Organisation (ILO) instruments, in particular those concerning forced or child labour and freedom of association.
In general, labour standards agreements also approve the setting up of bodies that will establish dialogue on a range of issues. They may also establish codes of conduct aimed at maintaining trade union and labour rights throughout the organisation globally.
The World Summit for social development held in 1995 and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work were key international developments towards the establishment of international standards. Following on from these, on 18 July 2001, the European Commission issued a Communication on Promoting core labour standards and improving social governance in the context of globalisation. This reaffirmed the importance of the ILO as a central body operating in the field of core labour standards.
The Commission stated on its trade website:
...core labour standards such as non-discrimination in employment and equal opportunities for men and women are guaranteed by EU law. Freedom of association and collective bargaining are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which gained legal force on 1 December 2009 with the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Although the EU does not expect developing countries to match its own high labour standards, it does not tolerate labour practices in its trading partners that fall below international norms.
In terms of the social partners at EU level, both BUSINESSEUROPE and the ETUC have expressed a commitment to the adoption of agreements that set down minimum labour standards. A position paper issued by BusinessEurope in 2011 on Corporate Social Responsibility states that:
...multinational enterprises provide part of the solution to safeguarding human rights, making a particularly positive contribution in countries where governance is weak, by increasing prosperity and social standards, and improving education.
A wide range of companies have signed International Framework Agreements (IFAs) on core labour standards over the past decade or so, including Freudenberg, Chiquita Brands International, Carrefour, Skanska, and Telefonica.
An agreement at Peugeot Citroen, originally concluded in March 2006 and extended in the summer of 2010, is an example of an IFA in which the global right of workers to form trade unions and to join trade unions of their choice is recognised. More recently, a new IFA at the French energy and services group GDF Suez, concluded in November 2011 with three global unions, provides a framework for promoting global social dialogue and negotiating on training, health and safety, restructuring and climate change. It also demonstrates the company’s support for international labour standards.
The Global Union Federations (GUF) lists 98 such agreements on its website.