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Social standards

Corporate social responsibility: voluntary codes of conduct


Production of a car body. Copyright: Photothek.netThe International Labour Orga­ni­za­tion (ILO) cannot impose sanc­tions when social standards are not main­­tained. That is why private initia­tives such as volun­tary codes of conduct and qua­lity labels have an impor­tant role to play when it comes to imple­ment­ing core labour stan­dards world­wide. There are now many initiatives in which the private sector, NGOs and trade unions are work­ing together to introduce social stan­dards (multi-stakeholder initiatives).

Voluntary codes of conduct also enable German companies to help ensure that human rights are upheld in developing countries. Where not only prices but also social standards are made key criteria for the award of production contracts to foreign companies, firms will endeavour to meet these conditions. The prohibition of child labour, regular working hours, decent working conditions and fair wages can then be enforced. This also entails a whole range of benefits for the German companies involved, such as enhanced product quality. The positive consumer image enjoyed by companies that comply with social standards can also raise the market value of a business.

Round Table Codes of Conduct

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 to promote voluntary codes of conduct in German businesses with production sites or suppliers in developing countries.

The Round Table has among other things developed an innova­tive approach to the participatory implementation of social stan­dards that has received a great deal of international attention. It has also published a guide containing practical examples which businesses can use as a guideline.

Codes of conduct for specific sectors

Since it is very difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises to develop a code of conduct of their own, several branches of industry have launched initiatives to develop codes of conduct that apply across entire sectors.

One example is the Common Code for the Coffee Community. Its goal is to develop a globally applicable code of conduct for the socially, ecologically and economically sustainable production, processing and marketing of coffee. The BMZ together with GIZ and the German Coffee Association set up this initiative in 2002. It is working to help improve the living and working conditions of raw coffee producers, and replace environmentally harmful cultivation methods.

A code of conduct also exists for the retail trade. This was introduced by the Foreign Trade Association of the German Retail Trade (AVE) in order to improve working conditions among their suppliers in foreign countries. It incorporates jointly developed rules that are based on the ILO Conventions. The German retail companies have undertaken not only to monitor and rate their suppliers, but also to support them in introducing improved working conditions. The long-term goal is to generally improve people's lives in the supplier countries concerned.

The results of the inspections are put into a database to which member companies have access. That saves each individual business having to send out its own inspectors.

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