Fundamental principles and rights at work

Boosting Workplace Compliance through Social Dialogue

Compliance goes beyond simply implementing the law at the workplace, yet this is a concept that often fails to trickle down the supply chain. Youcef Ghellab, Head of the ILO’s Social Dialogue and Tripartism Unit, explains what can be done to move this key issue forward.

Analyse | 27 octobre 2015
GENEVA (ILO News) – The challenges to workplace compliance are many. The huge informal sector in many countries is a major hindrance for compliance enforcement. But even in the formal economy, physically policing the hundreds of thousands of workplaces presents distinct problems for stretched labour inspection agencies. Further, given that supply chains cross borders and stretch to every corner of the world, national approaches are not always the best strategy. Effective social dialogue between government, workers and employers can improve compliance and produce better workplaces.

“Compliance is more than implementing the law, it is also about creating a workplace where there is cooperation between management and workers’ representatives, and where fundamental principles and rights at work are respected,” Youcef Ghellab, Head of the ILO’s Social Dialogue and Tripartism Unit, told ILO NEWs.

Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions (ESC-SI) can play a key role in promoting workplace compliance, including in global supply chains. These ESC-SI’s mostly work along the same lines as the ILO itself, providing a forum for social dialogue between Workers, Employers and Government.

But, according to Ghellab, the issue of compliance is not consistently seen as an integral element of their role: “These institutions tend to concentrate on other issues, (however, the ILO believes) that compliance is something that they should move up their agenda as a national issue, as a development issue… one that merits the attention of the government and employers’ and workers’ organizations at the highest level.”

An international conference underway in Amsterdam aims to emphasize the importance of compliance for ESC-SIs. In the lead up to the conference, the ILO surveyed ESC-SI’s to assess global attitudes towards the importance of compliance. (Listen to Youcef Ghellab's interview on the survey's conclusions)

The challenge of global supply chains

While most laws and regulations that govern compliance exist at a national level, the international nature of multinational businesses means that a simply legalistic approach, relying on the government to enforce national labour laws, will fall short of what is needed. Social dialogue must extend beyond the question of enforcing labour legislation and include fostering recognition within the culture of work that incorporating international norms is vital.

According to Ghellab, the value of complying with laws and collective agreements does not always reach down the supply chain. “Creating workplaces that are safe and healthy is good for business,” he said.

Making a difference through ESC-SI’s and social dialogue

The relative strength of ESC-SI’s varies across countries and regions, but in many places they play an important role in decision-making. Case in point, one of the hosts of this year’s conference, the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER), has played a significant part in advising its government on policy making, including on the issue of compliance in global supply chains. Further, the SER has been engaging with companies directly through its member employer organizations.

“They (the SER) have good experience in working with Dutch multinational companies in ensuring there is respect for laws along their supply chains and they live up to international standards in their operations,” said Ghellab.

The theme of “Strengthening workplace compliance though labour inspection “has been identified by the ILO as an area of critical importance. In that context, several pilot initiatives involving Economic and Social Councils and other tripartite bodies for social dialogue have been established to improve compliance. In Vietnam, a tripartite agreement on sexual harassment in the workplace has been adopted by the government and social partners. And in Haiti, ILO experts supported the establishment of a round table for social dialogue, as a forum to strengthen industrial relations and address issues related to working conditions and competitiveness in the Haitian apparel industry.

“There’s a lot that can be done to ensure the objective of compliance is taken on board,” Ghellab added.

The conference, titled Promoting Workplace Compliance including in Global Supply Chains: The role of Economic and Social Councils and similar social dialogue institutions, takes place at The Hague from 29-30 October.