Voluntary commitments fail: European companies violate FoA in the U.S.

Human Rights Watch recently published a 128-page report titled: “A Strange Case: Violations of Workers’ Freedom of Association in the United States by European Multinational Corporations” (see Ethicalcorp). The report “details ways in which some European multinational firms have carried out aggressive campaigns to keep workers in the United States from organizing and bargaining, violating international standards and, often, US labor laws”. Companies like Siemens, T-Mobile, DHL, Tesco were examined, who have all set up voluntary ethical standards and argue they follow ILO core norms.

The report reminds me of the wonderful movie: “Bread and Roses” by Ken Loach about janitors and unions in the US.

Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, argued: “The behavior of these companies casts serious doubt on the value of voluntary commitments to human rights”. In the press release the NGO criticizes the labour law system in the US for many mistakes. However, the report also demands stronger standard setting and complaints mechanisms by international organizations (e.g. ILO, OECD) and that managers in the headquarters better watch their management staff in the US.

The article made me wonder, in how far we can take for granted that ILO core norms are complied with in factories in the EU-27 countries. My guess is that the legal system in many EU members protect workers even less than in the US. However, why then do various actors talk of EU(27) countries as “low risk countries” regarding the violation of ILO codes? Public procurement often also neglects ILO norms when sourcing from the “low risk” EU market.

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