Research Handbook on Labour, Business and Human Rights Law
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Research Handbook on Labour, Business and Human Rights Law

Edited by Janice R. Bellace and Beryl ter Haar

Inquisitive and diverse, this innovative Research Handbook explores the ways in which human rights apply to people at work, through national constitutional provisions, judicial decisions and the application of rights expressed in supranational instruments. Key topics include evaluation of the role of the ILO in developing and promoting internationally recognized labour rights, and the examination of the meaning of the obligation of business to respect human rights, considering the evolution from international soft law to incorporation in codes of conduct and the emerging requirement of due diligence.
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Chapter 21: From workers’ rights to human rights at work

Janice R. Bellace


Since 1919, there have been international efforts to regulate working conditions. Traditionally, governments ratified conventions and then enacted laws obligating employers who were within their jurisdiction to abide by certain standards. In the 1970s there was the realization that some multinational enterprises (MNEs) could act in ways affecting workers quite differently than domestic employers. This led to a spate of soft law guidelines aimed at MNEs. By the 1990s, globalization and the phenomenon of global supply chains showed the inadequacy of this approach to regulating the corporate behaviour as companies (not necessarily ‘employers’) and brands sourced products from vendors in other countries, many of which did not adhere to international labour standards. This chapter traces the evolution of efforts to regulate the behaviour of companies, from soft law to hard law, and examines how notions of fundamental rights have evolved into acceptance that business should respect human rights, including the human rights of persons at work, and how this has affected the CSR stance of companies.

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