Sub-principle 2.C

Engage in partnerships according to international standards 


Why is it important?


International standards set important benchmarks for development programmes and partnerships when it comes to protecting human rights, labour rights, social dialogue, business practices and accountability, the environment, etc. Trade unions have long worked to ensure that multinational enterprises comply with international labour standards throughout their global production chains. Holding multinational businesses engaged in development co-operation to account for their impact would require aligning corporate behaviour and reporting with the effectiveness principles. A focus on promoting a rights-based approach to development co-operation and ensuring that the private sector complies with the International Labour Organization’s standards is vital since there is no automatic cause-effect relationship between private sector development and decent work creation.

Self-reflection questions
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  • Do PSE projects respect local and international human rights and labour standards?
  • Has the private sector partner conducted due diligence, taking into account compliance with national frameworks and alignment with international standards? Is the project monitored by third-party observers?
  • Do PSE projects have a feedback, grievance and redress mechanism in place?
  • Has the PSE partnership conducted a rigorous social and environmental impact assessment of the proposed programme to identify and mitigate potentially harmful impacts? 
  • Do you provide PSE partners with awareness-raising trainings to understand their obligations and adherence to these standards and regulations? 

Actions to consider
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  • At the global level, provide support to local trade unions to facilitate the use of responsible business conduct instruments (for example, linking with the relevant National Focal Points for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, multilateral development banks for labour safeguards or the ILO supervisory system). 
  • At the policy level, ensure that policies and strategies take into account international standards (i.e. International Labour Organization standards, United Nations Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises). 
  • At the project level, ensure projects are following relevant existing national and international voluntary and legal frameworks. 
  • Check that jobs created are of quality and sustainable, based on international labour standards, particularly regarding: freedom of association and collective bargaining, fair wages, social protection, occupational health, and safety provisions.
  • If involved in the PSE project, build in resources or request stand-alone resources from development partners to regularly monitor activities related to compliance with international standards. 

Pitfalls to avoid
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  • Neglect the role that civil society – international and domestic – can play in monitoring human rights.

Country-level examples

Drafting of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) safeguard took place against the backdrop of a major labour dispute at Grupo M in Haiti, a recipient of an IFC loan. Due to violations of labour rights and poor working conditions at the garment manufacturer, global unions pressured the IFC to require respect for freedom of association. The IFC inserted a covenant on labour into the loan, but Grupo M nonetheless refused to recognise or bargain with the workers’ trade union. Hundreds were terminated in retaliation for organising, with little legal or practical recourse because of a fragile political situation and the facility’s location in an export processing zone. 

Working together, the local union and global trade union bodies pressured the IFC to hold Grupo M accountable. Under pressure from trade unions and the IFC, Grupo M rehired the workers in 2005 and bargained with the trade union. This became the first collective bargaining agreement in a Haitian export processing zone. The Grupo M case demonstrated the need for a labour safeguard, and how binding requirements could address irresponsible corporate behaviour.

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