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Social standards

Background: Minimum social standards are human rights


Dhaka, Bangladesh: A boy producing bricks.

It is the task of the governments and authorities in a country to establish fair social and labour law conditions and to ensure com­pliance with them. Yet the global competition for markets and investors is tough. To gain a short-term competitive edge some developing countries flout social standards, which means violating workers' basic rights.

According to a definition provided by the German Bundestag's Globalisation of the World Economy Committee of Enquiry, social standards are a "wide-ranging and general term covering stan­dards applied when drawing up contracts of work (working time, pay, social insurance etc.) and for employees' rights". They are a tool for establishing acceptable relations between employers and employees.

The ILO's core labour standards

Since 1919 the International Labour Organization (ILO) has been championing employees' rights across the world. Its goal is to introduce globally applicable minimum social standards. These are designed to prevent individual countries or businesses gaining competitive advantages by flouting employees' rights. The mem­ber states of the ILO have adopted a series of conventions. They are, however, only legally binding once the member states have ratified them. That is why in 1998 the ILO adopted the Decla­ra­tion on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which lists the most important of the 185 ILO conventions and calls on members to ratify them.

The core labour standards, or fundamental labour laws, include the following conventions:

  1. Convention No. 29: Forced or Compulsory Labour (1930)

  2. Convention No. 87: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948)

  3. Convention No. 98: Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949)

  4. Convention No. 100: Equal Remuneration (1951)

  5. Convention No. 105: Abolition of Forced Labour (1957)

  6. Convention No. 111: Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) (1958)

  7. Convention No. 138: Minimum Age (1973)

  8. Convention No. 182: Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999)

The ILO's core labour standards are recognised internationally as "qualitative social standards" and take the form of universal hu­man rights that claim validity for all countries - regardless of the level of economic development. The right to work, to fair and de­cent terms and conditions of employment, to organise in trade unions and the right to strike were already established in the UN's International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966. The right to social security, the right to protection of the family and to an appropriate standard of living are also included.

As well as core labour standards many industrialised countries have adopted "qualitative social standards" that also comprise regulations governing working time and holiday entitlement, minimum wages, industrial safety and rights of participation at plant level.

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