Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

By Lance A. Compa; Stephen F. Diamond | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
Private Labor Rights Enforcement Through Corporate Codes of Conduct

Lance A. Compa and Tashia Hinchliffe Darricarrère

Codes of conduct for international business operations are proliferating as investors, companies, and governments confront worker demands to respect human and labor rights claims. For the most part, until recently, the link between increasing global economic activity and human rights was tenuous. Investors and executives tended to see human rights as a matter for government officials and diplomats to sort out, and resisted pressures to have their businesses used as tools for political reform. In a nutshell, as one critic of "corporate social responsibility" puts it, "the company that seeks to pursue profit and do 'good works' at the same time is likely to do neither very well."1

For their part, human rights activists tended to stress the most egregious violations of political and civil rights -- arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, political killings, one-party dictatorships, and the like -- without taking up issues of labor rights, working conditions, and the role of international business in a country where such abuses occurred. International labor rights were largely seen as a narrow, technical concern of the International Labor Organization, a Geneva-based United Nations specialized agency that issues -- but has no power to enforce -- "Conventions" approved by government, management, and labor delegates to its annual conferences.2

Globalization of the economy and globalization of human rights concerns were both important phenomena of the second half of the twentieth century, but they developed mostly on separate tracks. The international community did elaborate charters, covenants, and conventions that spoke to labor rights and labor conditions, but these mostly re

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