Connecting CSR With the Work of the CFA?

ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) 70th anniversary, 1952-2022

In honour of the 70th anniversary (1952) of the Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) professor emeritus Paul van der Heijden (International Labour Law) has written a blog post. A summary of his blog can be found below. The whole text can be found here.

Committee on Freedom of Association

The CFA is a Governing Body Committee of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The CFA was set up in 1951 with the purpose of examining complaints of violations of freedom of association, whether or not the country concerned has ratified the relevant Conventions (Conventions No. 87 and 98). When a company violates these conventions, a complaint against a member State may be brought before the CFA by employers’ or workers’ organisations. Please note that a complaint must be directed against the country where the violation occurs. Companies are not members of the ILO and therefore cannot be directly addressed in the ILO context. According to international law they are not legally obliged to comply with ILO conventions or regulations. Within the ILO, companies are represented by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE). Would it not be more effective if the CFA could contact companies directly instead of via the state where the violation took place and/or via the IOE/national employers association?

Codes of Conduct

The fast-paced globalisation and supply chain production methods within internationally operating enterprises (MNE’s) have caused a gap in the governance and enforcement of international labour standards. Many MNE’s have established internal rules called ‘Codes of Conduct’. In these codes companies declare to respect fundamental human and labour rights. Companies might also subscribe to the branch and/or industry Code of Conduct. This development was accelerated by the creation of many international codes, such as the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The UNGPs expect all businesses to respect the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. 

Corporate Social Responsibility

The private regulation of international labour standards is called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is a type of ‘soft law’. Codes of Conduct are not legally binding and respecting them is voluntary. They do not always contain a compliance chapter or a grievance procedure. In case of an alleged violation of the principles of freedom of association by an MNE the CFA cannot contact that company directly. Not even if that company has violated its own Code of Conduct. Instead, the CFA has to depend entirely upon the member state against whom the complaint is directed. Private companies do not have a role of their own in the ILO, their only channel is the IOE. But some of these companies are bigger and more powerful than many of the member states of the ILO. Why keep them out of any possibility for dialogue concerning alleged violations of freedom of association?

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