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January 28, 2022

UNGPs 10+ Blog Series: Protecting and Respecting Workers

The second and third action items in the UNGPs 10+ are focused on the responsibility of governments to protect workers from exploitation, and the responsibility of businesses to include human rights due diligence in their business models.

This is the third in a series of blogs exploring the UNGPs 10+ roadmap through the perspectives of our friends and partners. You can read the introduction here and view the full series here.

The second Action Area identified in the UNGPs 10+ is “State Duty to Protect” and focuses on the responsibility of governments to ensure that businesses are protecting their workers from exploitation, and to intervene when they are not. The authors of the Re:Structure Lab project share that their research has revealed that this might be the most important action area of all, if we are to truly make lasting change.

“As it stands, companies are often able to exploit legal loopholes to avoid meaningful accountability for forced labor and other severe forms of exploitation happening at various levels across global supply chains. Through the work of the Re:Structure Lab, it is becoming clear that real accountability will be needed to truly achieve the vision of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

That means passing and strengthening mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence (mHRDD) and supply chain transparency legislation, ensuring robust state-led enforcement, centering workers in standards-setting and remediation, and rewarding firms that shift from short-term extractive arrangements to long-term relationships that maximize value for all stakeholders. In an interconnected world facing dire economic, pandemic, and climate crises, there is no time for business as usual.”

The third action area, Business Responsibility to Respect, includes goals regarding embedding human rights due diligence in corporate governance and business models. Vani Saraswathi from points to why these policies are especially necessary for women in more conservative societies.

“Some highly feminised sectors, like domestic work, are disassociated from responsibility of businesses. However, in GCC states where there is no investment in social welfare services, labour market participation of women in the middle to higher income jobs is dependent on their ability to employ domestic workers to provide the care and services at home. In more conservative societies, women’s mobility is dependent on access to a driver and a female worker to serve as a guardian (both domestic workers).

Other feminised sectors like hospitality, cleaning, and retail often shy away from direct employment, preferring subcontracting to manpower supply or facilities management companies. Women workers are not housed in ‘labour camps’, neither their accommodation nor place of work is frequented by labour inspectors, allowing for poor business practices to go unchecked. It is imperative that big businesses, be it hotel brands or retail brands, pay attention to these facets of subcontracting. There are also more restrictions placed on women’s mobility (curfews, for example) under the guise of protection. This needs to be challenged.”

The next post in our series will look at the action item focused on remedy, and will feature writing from Mustafa Qadri on the challenge of moving from policy to practice. You can view the full blog series here, updated as new posts are published

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