There is an irritating paradox marking the global situation around labour standards and their enforcement: Despite a growing number of initiatives and recommendations for various policy instruments, the widespread violation of basic industrial human rights continues to be a profound challenge of the world’s social development as defined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the ILO_International Labour Organisation’s conventions. In the last three decades, various remedies for this societal illness have been debated: Starting with the initiative to bring a social clauses into the WTO_World trade organization’s trade arrangements, which was eventually rejected in 1996, initiatives include the introduction of social clauses into single bilateral or regional trade agreements, voluntary corporate code of conducts and business responsibility initiatives, international organizations’ guidelines (e.g. OECD) or principles (e.g. ILO) and international standard setting initiatives (e.g. ISO) as well as stakeholder dialogue and labour-management negotiations and agreements (e.g. global framework agreements). Recent efforts range from civil society and consumer campaigns to proposals for strengthening social auditing and labeling as well as regulating due diligence and disclosure by law.
And yet, despite the rising number of various instruments developed by a multitude of public and private actors on various levels with the ambition to uphold global labour standards, around the globe, examples of elementary labour standards violations are widespread. In many industries and sectors within and across countries, there are ubiquitous examples of organized irresponsibility if it comes to the conditions of work and employment. The impression is that severe violations are part and parcel of numerous cross-border supply chains and production networks. This holds for many products and services such as smartphones, fashion items, online book ordering or the purchase of a chocolate bar in a local supermarket.
This is a very disappointing and frustrating situation, to say the least: Labour standards are industrial human rights and include any aspect of an individuals’ working life from pay and wages, working time, health and safety regulations to non-discrimination and equal opportunity. Workers’ rights also extend to collective rights such as union representation and collective bargaining. Labour standards protect, empower, and promote those who work in the workplace and beyond, also by placing restrictions on what is a tolerable work, for example by prohibiting child and forced labour. When these rights are violated this is a problem for the individual workers affected, first and foremost. For the individual workers, today’s exploitative working conditions come in many forms and types, and usually bring along with them tragic injuries and deathly incidences. But they also kill slowly by worsening living conditions, shortening life expectancy, and reducing life chances of hundreds of millions of workers across the globe. But, labour standards violations also come along with wider repercussions for societies such as political conflict, social disintegration, and weakness in taking on challenges such as climate change.
The #LIB’s conclusion is that these ongoing labour standard violations are caused by a huge gap between rulemaking and the enactment, implementation, and enforcement of these rules. Despite the many national and international initiatives by single legislating bodies, state agencies and bodies, international organizations, trade unions, civil society organizations, corporations and engaged individuals, this gap has proven to be persistent for decades. Therefore, the #LIB aims at enlarging and spreading the knowledge about this social problem, but also wants to support those who want to identify, create, and realize solutions in practice to end labour standard violations. For this purpose, labour inspection is broadly defined as those labour politics with the goal to end labour standard violations. These politics may take place in various fields and arenas and are carried forward by various actors – from supply chain due diligence legislation, union networks and global framework agreements to corporate social responsibility initiatives, civil society campaigns and consumer activism as well as state agencies entitled to inspect and sanction labour standard violations. For ending labour standard violations, it is still not known what the right mix of labour inspection instruments looks like. To assist in finding out is the goal of the #LIB.