Bridging the Gap
Edited by Robert C. Bird, Daniel R. Cahoy and Jamie Darin Prenkert
Chapter 6: Labor rights are human rights: Sustainability initiatives and trade policy
An important aspect of the growing movement for more accountability in global business is that of recognizing that labor rights are human rights. International organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and consumers are calling on companies to take affirmative steps to promote the fair treatment of workers. However, companies struggling in a tight economy to remain competitive and viable may be resistant to undertaking steps that create better conditions for their global workforce, especially when those changes have a detrimental effect on profits. Some executives, however, are realizing that corporate responsibility is tied to sustainability and innovation and that a long-term strategic vision should take into account the need for a consistent workforce. Despite this fact, immediate economic realities drive many companies to seek out the cheapest possible labor, often working under the worst possible conditions. This has led the United Nations to champion and advance the idea that business and human rights must be considered together to effectuate any meaningful change for millions of workers. This proposition is not a simple one to see to fruition. As John Ruggie observes, “The idea of human rights is both simple and powerful. The operation of the global human rights regime is neither” (Ruggie, 2013a, xxviii). If labor rights are, indeed, human rights, it is important to discuss how and why this cause should be advanced by business, as well as ways in which trade laws can be used to further reinforce this message.
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