How should companies respect workers’ rights?

‘There are an estimated 110 million formal construction workers across the globe. An equivalent number is working informally (mainly in supply chains) and therefore most vulnerable to human rights abuses.’

This International Labour Organisation (ILO) statistic is quoted in a new responsible business resource produced jointly by the United Nations Human Compact and RICS.

In this second extract from the publication ‘Advancing Responsible Business Practices in Land, Construction and Real Estate Use and Investment’, we look at actions companies are encouraged to take in the context of respecting workers’ rights.

How can companies respect workers’ rights in the real estate development phase?

Fair treatment of workers is particularly challenging when there are multiple contractors using subcontractors and where respect of workers’ rights need to be ensured throughout the subcontracting supply chain.

Key points of consideration are: freedom of association, collective bargaining, non-discrimination, occupational health and safety, forced labour, human trafficking, migrant workers, child labour.

To make responsible supply chains that respect the protection of labour and human rights:

Companies should carry out a thorough risk and opportunity assessment of the impact their own overall business activity has on labour and human rights, including an assessment of the impact of those within their local and global supply chains and develop a labour and human rights supply chain management policy.

Companies should encourage, or, where appropriate, require their suppliers to develop their own internal labour and human rights policies.

Companies should stipulate that they will only enter into business arrangements with suppliers / contractors (tier 1) and subsuppliers/subcontractors (tier 2 and subsequent) that have a proven track record of meeting certain standards with regard to respecting workers’ rights, including such issues as forced and/or child labour and respect for the rights of potentially vulnerable groups (such as indigenous people and migrants).

Companies should ensure that main contractors make responsible supply chain choices with regard to subcontractors to ensure full compliance with national or ILO labour rights and occupational health and safety regulations.

Companies should  take action to ensure the respect of workers’ rights, formal or informal and, in accordance with the Decent Work Agenda set forth by the International Labour Organization, provide opportunities for decent work.

Companies should establish practices to ensure a safe and healthy work environment in accordance with international labour standards.

Companies should play a key role in the fight against forced labour and human trafficking, practices which are particularly common in the informal labour market. Relevant steps include having a clear and transparent company policy, setting out the measures taken to prevent forced labour and trafficking, while indicating that the policy applies to all enterprises involved in a company’s product and supply chains.

Companies should carry out due diligence with regard to suppliers or subcontractors potentially engaged in child labour, especially when dealing with suppliers or subcontractors who operate in jurisdictions where forced and child labour may not be illegal or not adequately monitored or policed.

Companies should develop strategies around non-discrimination and expand business relationships with women-owned enterprises, including small businesses and women entrepreneurs.

Download the full copy of ‘Advancing Responsible Business Practices in Land, Construction and Real Estate Use and Investment’.

Relevant UN resources and tools

  • Inclusive sourcing
  • ILO Report on Health and Life at Work: A basic human right