Labour Rights in the Supply Chain and Corporate Social Responsibility

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) releases a report today from a fact-finding mission to Bangladesh.
The mission took place in the framework of the FIDH / Carrefour cooperation on human rights in the supply chain. The objectives were to assess Carrefour’s efforts to deal with labour rights issues in Bangladesh, and to issue recommendations to the government of Bangladesh and multinational corporations sourcing from the country in order to improve respect for labour rights in the garment industry.

The report notes recent progress in working conditions in Bangladeshi export garment factories in general. There is an increased compliance with minimum wage and deductions from wages as penalties are becoming rare; some factories have created a social welfare committee; and child labour is eradicated in export factories. After a period of severe labour unrest, a Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2006 between employers, employees, and the government. The parties agreed upon 10 conditions to end the unrest and to improve labour conditions. As a result of the deal, the minimum wage was raised in October 2006 – for the first time in 12 years.

However, major labour rights violations were still found. The violations include: no freedom of association, no living wage, no access to effective remedies in case of labour rights violations, excessive working hours, and inappropriate maternity leave and benefits. Furthermore, in January 2007, the Caretaker government declared a state of emergency that includes a prohibition of trade union activities. FIDH addresses several recommendations to the government of Bangladesh, including that it immediately lift the state of emergency, ensure adequate implementation of international covenants ratified by Bangladesh, ratify and implement relevant ILO conventions, and increase the minimum wage so that it covers basic needs.

The report analyses the limitations of social auditing as a sole means for improving labour conditions in supplying factories. FIDH makes several recommendations to multinational corporations sourcing from Bangladesh, such as to ensure adequate follow-up of audits and corrective action plans; find ways to give incentive to suppliers who are socially compliant, and integrate social performance criteria in sourcing decisions; publicly disclose manufacturing sites list; end using importers which cannot be held accountable for labour rights violations; and support the increase of the minimum wage so as to cover basic needs

The mission also evaluated the training programme carried out by a local NGO Karmojibi Nari for workers and management of Carrefour’s suppliers. The trainings have given Karmojibi Nari access to the factories, which would otherwise be impossible. The training sessions have been very interactive, and participation is high. FIDH also identified some practical difficulties with the training project, such as the fact that it does not sufficiently address freedom of association. FIDH and Karmojibi Nari have agreed to work together to find ways to address the specific difficulties identified by the mission.

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