Interview

When works councils start

Issue 78 - November | December 2018

Employee representation can often make sense in enforcing labor and social standards along the supply chain, as examples show.

Felix Hadwiger, WMP-Consult, co-author of the study "Enforcing human rights in companies"
Felix Hadwiger,
WMP-Consult, co-author of the study "Enforcing human rights in companies"
Are global guidelines an important lever for enforcing workers' rights in international companies?

Hadwiger: The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and similar recognized labor and social policies require governments and corporate leaders first. For employee representatives, however, they can represent an important reference point for demands on the management.

How can employees be included in corporate due diligence along the supply chain?

Hadwiger: For example, a solid basis can be global framework agreements that commit companies to respect international trade unions for workers' rights, including in the supply chain. These framework agreements usually provide for the formation of international bodies to oversee compliance with the agreement, and include works councils and trade unions in these bodies. Faber-Castell, for example, has established a three-stage monitoring process with employee representations to implement and comply with the Global Framework Agreement, which includes social checklists, regular internal employee audits, and production site inspections by monitoring committees, which also involve employee representatives. However, other areas of activity are also opening up: Thyssenkrupp has established a well-functioning social partner complaints mechanism in its framework agreement. Employees at Norsk-Hydro are involved in risk analysis and effectiveness control, among others, and they also participate in reparations at Daimler.

Which fields of activity exist outside such global framework agreements?

Hadwiger: In general, works councils can bring maladministration to management if they learn of it, so that remedial action can be taken. In doing so, they support the risk management of the company. They can also be included when creating a code of conduct or stakeholder dialogues. In addition, they can also become initiators and driving forces for a company to commit itself to an international framework or even enter into a global framework agreement in which they are given a concrete role. For a systematic and comprehensive involvement of employee representation is often not, they are not necessarily intended as actors. Here, however, significant differences between companies can be observed. In the US, for example, social dialogue is not as well established as in Austria and Germany.

How important is knowledge transfer?

Hadwiger: Our thesis is that the UN Guiding Principles and other international policies are being used at the political level by the international unions to underpin various demands. At company level, however, these standards have often arrived at the management level, but not necessarily at the employee representatives. A transfer of knowledge between the different levels would therefore be a very important topic. But there are also other limits. Works councils are elected so that they represent the interests of the workforce. It is more about the pause regulation at one's own location than the protection of international workers' rights in the supply chain. What we have seen is that when there is engagement at this level, it is often for a personal reason - because you are active or know someone in the church or in a NGO. This is again different for central, group or European works councils. These are more often concerned with cross-border issues and international monitoring and compliance with labor standards.

Many thanks for the interview!
Photo: WMP

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