Controlling Violations of Labour and Human Rights

The Second Session of the Working Group on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights concluded on Friday 28 October, after five days of extensive debate.

The Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples’ Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and End Impunity (, with the participation of transform! europe, expressed its engagement with this process through several activities, actions and statements. For the press release click here.
On behalf of transform! europe, Professor Adoración Guamán delivered the following statement about the necessity of controlling violations of labour and human rights along global supply chains:

"Good morning, my name is Adoración Guamán, I am Labour Law professor at the University of Valencia and I participate in the Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power. My intervention will focus on the development of three topics related to the content of the treaty:
The first one is a classical topic that is worth mentioning: social and especially labour rights are human rights and thus they deserve that place in the text of the Treaty.
As the Viena Statement put forward in 1993, all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and linked to human dignity. International instruments should consider human rights from a global perspective and on equal footing, and thus, within the concept of “human rights” we should include labour ones.
The second topic is that it is necessary to tackle the issue of supply chain. Outrage due to the violation of labour rights in supply chains spread after events such as the collapse of Rana Plaza or the fires in factories in Bangladesh and Pakistan, which caused the death of more than 1,500 people. Since then a wealth of statements of different types in the international and state level regarding the necessity to ensure the responsibility of main companies have been put forward. You will however agree with me in that reality shows that nothing of what has been achieved until now is enough. Nor statements based on voluntarism nor state level isolated actions are capable of countering the negative effects that the phenomenon of supply chains is causing in working conditions and the lives of millions of people.
Throughout these sessions we have heard an interpretation of the ILO documents regarding these supply chains that shows a biased reading on part of employers’ representatives. It is true that in the Report on decent work on supply chains adopted in the 2016 Conference it was conceded that they had contributed to economic growth and the creation of jobs.
This notwithstanding, the most relevant part of the report and the considerations by trade unions and most countries in the Conference focused on highlighting the negative consequences of these supply chains on labour rights.
It has been sufficiently proved that work in those supply chains is characterized by the intense pressure on wages and working conditions, for frequent violations of rights and insecurity in work relationships.
Abuses of human rights have been documented on these supply chains, and there have been reports on poor working conditions, violations of the minimum wage, overtime being imposed, child labour, sexual harassment, discrimination, exposition to toxic substances and retaliation against workers that attempted to unionize. We know that conditions analogue to those of slavery exist in different sectors of the world economy linked to these supply chains and in particular in the so-called Free Industrial Zones.
In particular, it is important to highlight the fact that women make up a growing part of the labour composition of these supply chains and are victims to discrimination, sexual harassment and other forms of violence. Migrant workers find themselves in a situation of double precarisation.
It is true that, on one end of the supply chain, benefits grow, but on the other end we find vulnerability and impotence, both of small companies and of those workers who are affected. And it is equally true that these supply chains manage to externalize responsibility and build a legal framework that guarantees the impunity of parent companies.
As I have pointed out, texts with instruments of voluntary adoption end up being insufficient, and not all companies enforce them to the same degree. Moreover, Governments in affected countries cannot control their compliance, not necessarily because of a lack of willingness, but because of a lack of resources.
Before this situation, one of the ways to solve the problem is to establish a solidary responsibility due to action or omission in parent companies regarding the violation of human rights throughout supply chains. All economic agents that profit from a mercantile activity must be held equally responsible of the consequences that this activity generates. And for that, it is necessary to establish the obligation of transnational companies to identify their subsidiaries, suppliers and subcontractors and clarify the legal form of their participation in other entities in all of their commercial and/or financial practices. In this way, victims must be able to claim reparations to all those responsible, collectively, individually, or to some of them.
These are not unachievable objectives, because several state level dispositions are oriented towards this objective and could be used as examples of legal techniques in order to develop the future contents of a binding agreements.
In third place, I want to refer to the need to introduce a binding reference in the Treaty that deals with the investment and trade Agreement and with foreign investment protection mechanisms. Resolution 26/9 highlighted that States have the obligation and responsibility to promote and protect human rights. We know, however, that the introduction of ISDS mechanisms opens a way to limit the ability of States to adopt measures that aim to protect or develop fundamental rights.
A way that transnational companies use with and which has become more and more common, a mechanism that puts them in a privileged position with regards to national companies. And this law freezing phenomenon is also affecting labour rights as it has been proved by the widely known affair of Veolia.
It is thus necessary, and this Treaty is a good opportunity to do so, to reaffirm the guarantee of primacy and superiority of the general framework of human rights on the international plane, regarding the rules that promote trade and investment."

Translation: Guillem Murcia