For many years, human rights law has been considered a playing field in which states are the most important actors. Within the framework of multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), treaties and conventions have been concluded that states can ratify or adhere to. After ratification Member states commit themselves to the implementation of these documents.
The past 15 years however, we have observed another development. Under the influence of globalisation of the economy, transnational corporations have started to feel responsible for the enforcement of human rights. They are often encouraged by public debate, societal pressure and sometimes by their stockholders. More and more companies aim to account for their behaviour.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Under the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), companies have become more active in formulating their policies with respect to human rights. An increasing number of companies have accepted the Principles of the UN Committee on Human Rights. The state is responsible ‘to protect human rights’, whereas companies must ‘respect human rights’. States and companies share the responsibility ‘to remedy’ in case of a violation of their obligations under international conventions.
A large number of companies have documented their human rights policy in so-called ‘Codes of Conduct’ and ‘Supplier Codes’. The difference between these documents is explained here. These documents express the principles of the company to which they have committed themselves. These codes often refer to international conventions and standards.
The aim and importance of the Database
The question whether CSR policies of international companies are successful in protecting human rights, is a matter of debate. To enable an informed discussion of this topic, it is necessary to compile relevant data. International conventions are easily located on the websites of international organisations and in national legislation. However, the search for codes of conduct can be very complex and time-consuming.
This database aims to collect as many Codes of Conduct and Supplier Codes as possible, make them available to the public and investigate their content on the theme of human rights. This is a rather comprehensive aim. To start, we have focussed on the five fundamental labour rights of the ILO. On our website, you will find an explanation of these rights, as well as a classification of the collected documents in terms of mentionings of child labour, forced labour, freedom of association and collective bargaining and discrimination (these are the Fundamental Principles and Rights at work as decided by the ILO in 1998), as well as occupational health and safety (this category was added to the list in June 2022). We will further develop the database by adding more companies and categorising mentionings of other types of human rights.