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Social standards

German policy: decent terms and conditions of employment for all


Sewer in El Salvador. Copyright: Photothek.netAs the German government understands it, core labour stan­dards are an im­por­tant element of social human rights. All coun­tries - and all bu­si­nes­ses - must be mea­sured against the degree to which they ob­serve these stan­dards. Social stan­dards form the foun­da­tion of a so­cial­ly res­pon­sible eco­no­mic pro­cess. The aim of German deve­lop­ment policy is to help pro­mote economic growth and to help esta­blish decent working and living conditions in partner countries - since both serve poverty reduction.

Germany is therefore committed to helping enforce fundamental labour laws

  • by supporting international organisations

  • by means of dialogue with partner countries

  • by cooperating with the private sector.

Supporting international organisations

Germany supports the ILO, the lead institution for implementing core labour standards worldwide. Germany promotes the ILO's Decent Work Country Programmes within the framework of development cooperation to help implement the ILO's Decent Work Agenda. Germany's support for the Country Programmes focuses on expanding social dialogue, further combating child labour and creating decent jobs in developing countries.

Over the past few years German development cooperation has promoted a number of ILO projects, such as the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). Germany was also involved in the World Commission on the Social Dimen­sion of Globalisation set up by the ILO. In 2004 the Com­mis­sion, made up of experts from go­vern­men­tal orga­ni­sa­tions, the pri­vate sector, trade unions, non-govern­men­tal or­gani­sa­tions (NGOs) and aca­demia, put forward its con­cluding recom­men­dations, which were wel­comed by the German govern­ment. These form part of the basis for Germany's policy of strengthening the social dimension of globalisation.

Germany is also working hard to ensure that international deve­lop­ment organi­sations such as the World Bank, the Inter­national Mone­tary Fund (IMF), the UN Develop­ment Pro­gramme as well as the European Union put funda­mental labour laws on the agenda in dialogue with develop­ing countries. The World Bank is now pay­ing increa­sing atten­tion to the ILO conven­­tions and is exa­min­ing to what extent mini­mum social stan­dards can be made a condi­tio­na­lity for the granting of loans.

Another particular matter of concern for the German government is stepping up cooperation between the World Trade Organi­za­tion (WTO) and the ILO. Many developing countries fear that in­dustrialised countries are abusing the debate on social stan­dards to pro­tect their own econo­mies from compe­tition. By generously open­ing up their markets to products from de­ve­lop­ing countries, the industria­lised countries could allay these fears. The rules established on the global market should offer all countries equal opportunities.

Dialogue with partner countries

German development cooperation supports measures to intro­duce and respect core labour standards in partner countries. That includes training trade union experts on the social and economic aspects of glo­bali­sa­tion. For example, govern­ments in partner countries, as well as also trade unions and busi­ness asso­cia­tions, receive support during the im­ple­men­tation of labour law reforms.

NGOs and in particular trade unions have a key role to play here. They establish contact with employees, run training courses and workshops, and represent the interests of the workforce in dealings with employers and public authorities. They are also important partners when it comes to publicising, formulating, introducing and monitoring social standards.

Cooperation with the private sector

Internationally active businesses benefit from globalisation; they open up new markets and win new suppliers. In their particular area of operations these companies bear responsibility - and also have the opportunity - for eliminating social ills in developing countries. They can bring their influence to bear, for example, to prevent human rights violations in their area of operations. They can also ensure compliance with human rights obligations such as core labour standards, and standards on environmental protection or on combating corruption.

Economic cooperation is often a more efficient means for elimi­nating social ills than political measures. This is why the BMZ is suc­cess­fully engaged in intensive cooperation with the private sector in various areas:

  • Voluntary codes of conduct and economic initiatives:
    In 2001 the BMZ, together with representatives from com­panies and business associations, from NGOs, trade unions and government organisations, founded the Round Table Codes of Conduct. This Round Table promotes the intro­duc­tion of voluntary codes of conduct to set social standards in German businesses with production sites or suppliers in developing countries. Germany also supports global eco­no­mic initiatives such as the UN's Global Compact, which pro­motes stronger social commitment from bu­si­nes­ses in the areas of human rights, labour standards, en­viron­men­tal protection and combating corruption.
    See also the section on voluntary codes of conduct

  • Export credit guarantees:
    Germany uses export credit guarantees to insure German exports against economic and political risks. When a foreign buyer defaults on payment or goes bankrupt, or in the case of violent conflicts, the exporter is indemnified for the majority of the loss by an Euler Hermes credit insurance. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with the cooperation of the BMZ, adopted what have become known as environmental guidelines to introduce binding regulations governing ecological, social and development policy aspects of export guarantees in the OECD. International standards such as those applied by the World Bank Group form the basis of these guidelines. For instance, all ten of the World Bank's safeguards are applied as standards in decisions concerning export guarantees, and the eight International Finance Corporation (IFC) standards are applied when it comes to project funding.

  • Fair trade:
    Fair trade enables producers to obtain guaranteed minimum prices for their products. These prices are calculated such that the producers are able to cover their costs while still having enough left over to make a living. The BMZ supports fair trade; it is an effective instrument for poverty reduction. One focus of these measures involves raising the aware­ness of German consumers concerning the purpose, the principle, the products, and the social and political context of fair trade.
    See also the section on fair trade

  • Development partnerships with the private sector:
    In development partnerships with the private sector, the state and private businesses are equal partners in deve­lop­ment cooperation projects. One of the key ob­jec­tives of all such arrangements is to eliminate indecent working con­di­tions in developing countries, and establish social standards on a sustainable basis.
    See also the section on cooperation with the private sector

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