Mechanisms for Assistance
Public International Bodies
International Labor Organization (ILO): Complaints in General
Complaints are filed with the ILO when a member has violated or has failed to satisfactorily observe an ILO Convention that it ratified. The complaints must originate from an ILO member state, a delegate of the International Labor Conference, or the Governing Body of the ILO.
Complaints are filed with the International Labor Office. The complaint will first be considered by the Governing Body of the ILO, unless it relates to trade union rights, in which case, the Governing Body will forward the complaint to the Committee on Freedom of Association. If necessary, the Governing Body may inquire into the government in question about the substance of the complaint. If not, the Governing Body may appoint a Commission of Inquiry, and the Commission will decide the merits of the complaint.
The Commission must prepare a report of its findings, and make necessary recommendations. The report and recommendations are sent to the Committee of Experts to follow up with the governments in question. The report will be published and it will also be transmitted to the Governing Body and to the affected governments. Each government must convey its acceptance or non-acceptance of the recommendations within three months to the ILO. If a government contests findings by the Commission, it may appeal to International Court of Justice, whose decision will be final.
If a government fails to follow the recommendations of the Commission or the final decision of the ICJ in a timely manner, the Governing Body may then recommend necessary measures against a government to the International Labor Conference to achieve compliance from the government.
Click here for more information on how to file a complaint.
ILO: Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA)
The CFA examines complaints relating to violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining. Complaints may be brought against any nation, and they may originate from employers’ or workers’ organizations (i.e. labor unions). If the CFA finds that the complaint has merits, the CFA will issue recommendations for the affected government to follow.
If the complaint was brought against a government that has ratified the relevant laws in question, the case may be referred to the Committee of Experts. In some cases, the CFA may choose to resolve the issues alleged in the complaint by direct contact with relevant government officials to facilitate a solution. Since 1951, the CFA has investigated over 2,300 cases, and more than 60 countries have followed the recommendations proposed by the CFA.
click here for more information on the CFA.
ILO: Committee of Experts
Once a member state has ratified an ILO Convention, it must periodically submit reports to the ILO detailing its progress in implementing the Conventions it ratified. These reports must also be submitted to employers’ and workers’ organizations, and these organizations may comment on the reports to the ILO.
The purpose of the Committee of Experts is to examine the reports submitted to the ILO by the member nations. Once the Committee has examined the reports, it may make observations to be published in its annual report or it may make additional requests for information from a government. For more information on the Committee of Experts, please click here.
The World Bank: Inspection Panel
In 1993, the Inspection Panel was established to provide services to people who are affected by World Bank projects. The purpose of the Panel is to ensure that the Bank adheres to its rules and procedures.
Before filing a complaint, individuals and entities affected by a World Bank project must first try to resolve the problems with World Bank management. Otherwise, those who are living in or who are representing persons living in areas affected by a World Bank project who are likely to be harmed by the project may file a complaint with the Inspection Panel.
The Panel will inspect the complaint to ensure that the request is within its mandate. If it is, then the Panel will send the complaint to Bank Management, so that it will have an opportunity to respond. The Panel will then review the complaint and the response and make a recommendation to the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors as to whether the complaint should be investigated.
If the Board decides that it should be investigated, the Panel will do so. The Panel will report its findings to the Board and to Management. Management will have six weeks to make recommendations on how it will respond to the Panel’s findings. Based on its own findings and the recommendations of Management, the Panel will make a final decision on a corrective procedure.
For more information on how to file a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel click here.
International Finance Corporation (IFC)
Effective April 30, 2006, the IFC has adopted a Policy on Social and Environmental Sustainability. The purpose of this policy is to obtain positive results for private sector projects that the IFC finances in emerging markets. Labor and working conditions are considered in the policy.
Individuals, communities, or any other entities affected by or involved in an IFC-financed project may file a complaint with the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) if the issue cannot be resolved at the project level or through other established mechanisms. The CAO is independent of the IFC and reports directly to the President of the World Bank. The CAO will examine the issues raised in the complaint, and will investigate to ensure that the IFC complies with all applicable guidelines. Often, a CAO staff member and/or outside experts will visit the site where the complaint arises to investigate and to conduct interviews. The CAO will then prepare a report and make recommendations on how the issues can be resolved.
For more information on filing a complaint with the CAO click here.
The World Trade Organization and the Social Clause
The first Ministerial Conference of the WTO was held in Singapore in December 1996. The discussion regarding the “social clause” was a main focus of the conference. The “social clause” links labor standards with trade. Developing countries and the United Kingdom opposed the link between trade and labor standards whereas the United States and some other developed countries were in favor of it.
A compromise was reached between the parties at the end of the conference, and a paragraph was added into the Ministerial Declaration. All parties confirmed its commitment to observe international labor standards and the ILO. All parties also recognized that increase trade contributes to the promotion of labor standards, but declined to acknowledge that labor standards should be used for “protectionist purposes,” and that low-wage developing countries should be favored in this linkage.
OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises set forth various standards and principles of responsible business conduct. Governments adhering to the Guidelines must establish National Contact Point (NCP) to disseminate information about the Guidelines to business and interested entities and encourage them to follow the Guidelines. Countries that has established NCPs are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Commission has also committed itself to adhering to the Guidelines although it does not have an NCP.
When an issue arises regarding the Guidelines, it is the NCP that will make the initial assessment as to whether the issue has merits. The NCP must take appropriate steps to preserve confidential business information while the dispute is ongoing. The NCP will consult with the parties in question and relevant outside resources as necessary to try to resolve the dispute. If the parties fail to cooperate, then the NCP will issue a statement and make appropriate recommendations. Once consultation between the NCP and the relevant parties has ended, the results may be made public unless doing so will impair effective implementation of the Guidelines.
Each NCP will make an annual report to the Committee on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises, and make appropriate recommendations to the NCPs on how they can improve their functions or implement the Guidelines effectively.
For more information on the implementations of the Guidelines click here.
Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA)
Enacted in 1789, it allows federal courts in the United States to exercise original jurisdiction for civil actions filed by a foreigner alleging tortuous conducts that were committed “in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” In recent years, foreigners have used the ATCA to sue transnational American-owned corporations for complying with and sometimes assisting foreign governments or officials in abusing human rights in furtherance of the corporations’ financial interests.
Although recent United States Supreme Court rulings have shown signs of restricting the reading of ATCA to favor corporations, but it is doubtful that courts will grant absolute immunity to American-owned transnational corporations. For example, in 2003, in Estate of Rodriguez v. Drummond Corp., the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama (Western Division) granted claims based on ATCA to proceed against a US-owned mining company that allegedly plotted with Colombian paramilitaries to assassinate the miners’ union leaders. The court referred to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which the United States and 146 other nations have endorsed. The Covenant specifically confers on all individuals “the right to freedom of association with others,” and more specifically, the right to “form and join trade unions for the protection of [their] interest.”
Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)
ETI has enacted a code of labor practice, known as the “Base Code.” This Code incorporates the most relevant standards of international labor practices, which all ETI member companies should adopt and follow. ETI members are to work together to successfully implement the Code, and they are to present an annual report on their successes or failures. Workers who are covered by the Code must have adequate resources to report employers’ abuses of the Code. To learn more about the Code and how it is implemented, click here.
Fair Labor Association (FLA)
The FLA focuses on helping participating companies to adopt and adhere to its Code of Conduct. The FLA assists companies to implement programs that will allow them monitor themselves internally. The FLA will also independently monitor each company’s high-risk facilities and work with them to enact corrective measures.
Click here for more information about the role of the FLA.
Social Accountability International (SAI)
SAI promotes human rights for workers worldwide. Anyone who wishes to make a complaint to SAI may do so in writing, and send it to Executive Director, SAI, 220 East 23rd Street, Suite 605, New York, NY 10010. The complaint should give a detailed explanation of its objective. Once the complaint is fully investigated, SAI will notify all interested parties on the outcome of the complaint.
For more information on how to file a complaint with SAI click here.
Regional and Country Specific
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) & the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC)
NAFTA is an agreement between the United States and its neighbors, Canada and Mexico, to limit taxes on imports and exports. The North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) later complemented NAFTA. The goal of the NAALC is to advance labor relations between the United States, Canada, and Mexico as well as labor unions and social organizations. The NAALC provides a mechanism for its members to enforce labor standards without changing a nation’s labor system.
Under the NAALC, all three governments must maintain a National Administrative Office (NAO). Individuals, unions, employers, non-governmental organizations, or other private parties may file public communications for the NAO to review labor law issues from another country. An entity filing for review must follow the procedures of its own NAO office. If the matter requires expert evaluation, a country may require an independent Evaluation Committee of Experts (ECE). If the ECE is ineffective in resolving the problem, an independent Arbitral Panel will be established, and the decisions of the Panel should be followed or the entity may be fined or sanctioned.
For more information about filing public communications click here.
For more information about the ECE and the Arbitral Panel click here.
For general information about NAALC review click here.
US-Cambodia Bilateral Textile Trade Agreement
Signed on January 20, 1999, it encourages Cambodia to comply with international labor standards (specifically, standards set forth by the International Labor Organization) and Cambodian labor laws. The Agreement gave trade-related incentives to Cambodia in exchange for allowing the ILO to supervise labor conditions at the factory level.