In countries of the Global South especially, daily working life is, for many employees, characterized by unfair wages, lacking social safety nets, forced labor, discrimination of women, persecution and oppression of unions, and lack of safety standards. Strengthening decent work worldwide is therefore central to enforcing human rights and reducing inequality. With our work regarding economy and human rights, we want to contribute to this endeavor.
Today, globally-acting corporations are important actors of globalization that, in some cases, have significant economic and political capital at their disposal. Worldwide, about 450 Million people are part of value chains. However, in the course of the fight for lucrative production conditions, mining rights and cheap commodities, human rights often are often left behind. The victims of human rights infractions often have no way of taking legal action against the corporations. Local government structures are often weak, or the governments have no interest in enforcing human rights. Additionally, in the corporations' origin countries, adherence to human rights abroad is often seen as voluntary. To put an end to this deplorable state of affairs, victims should be given access to the law and states should be able to control corporations' due diligence regarding human rights. In the case of infractions, the states should then be able to penalize them, even across borders.
The last few years saw a real revitalization of the debate. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights define non-binding standards for companies' human rights responsibilities. They also outline central elements of businesses' due diligence regarding human rights. Based on these Guiding Principles, there are a number of initiatives in Germany that address the issue of human rights in global value chains. Together with our civil society and union partners, the FES works on these issues through focusing on the two key issues of corporate due diligence and global standards.
The rather new concept of corporate due diligence prompts businesses to be mindful of human rights in their global business activities. The details of this concept are continuously developed on the basis of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights, which is currently being developed by the Federal Government, is an important interim step. Within this framework and other initiatives, the FES advocates for finding ways to implement human rights due diligence, both politically and legally. Through our consulting services, such as our working group “Decent Work Worldwide”, reports, and events, we submit concrete proposals, support political decision-makers and promote broad public debates. The goal is to formulate and enforce more binding – that is legal – regulations for corporate due diligence.
In practical terms, our aim is also to improve access to justice for victims. One example is the case of the Pakistani plaintiffs against the German textile concern KiK at the district court in Dortmund. The background of this trial is the September 2012 fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, whose main customer was KiK and at which 260 people died. Together with our partners worldwide, the FES brings the Global South's perspectives on the access to justice to the discussion table in Germany.
Audits can be important tools for enforcing social standards. However, criticism is growing, mainly in view of the established processes' lack of efficiency. For this reason, the FES discusses the scope of audits with business representatives, as well as sounding out alternative methods of standard application. Further, the FES is active in the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, which is a multi-stakeholder-initiative made up of business, civil society, and union representatives, committed to improving social and ecological standards in countries of production. Here, the FES mainly focuses on the cooperation with domestic and international unions.
We also support the yearly “Dirty Profits” report, issued by the NGO Facing Finance, which wants to sensitize investors to the possibility of investing in sustainable businesses. In their reports, the NGO uncovers the entanglements of businesses and financial houses in human rights and environmental violations. The FES stands behind this endeavor in order to advocate for standards in the financial and banking sector.