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What standards should be in a code of conduct?

Most company codes of conduct include provisions on forced labour, discrimination, child labour, and health and safety. Codes that address hours of work, wages and overtime issues seldom go beyond local legal requirements, or allow hours of work above the standards set by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Many codes include provisions on freedom of association but only where it is allowed by law, and few codes mention the right to organize unions and bargain collectively.

The language in company-developed codes of conduct is often purposely vague, in order to limit corporate responsibility and public accountability. 'No Sweat' codes developed by institutional buyers and codes developed by multi-stakeholder initiatives tend to have stronger, clearer standards.

The main provisions in a code of conduct should be based on core labour rights as defined in International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions:

They should also include provisions that go beyond what are currently defined as core labour rights:

  • health and safety (Convention 155 and Recommendation 164);
  • hours of work (Convention 1) and overtime compensation;
  • wages (ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy);
  • security of employment (no abuse of labour only subcontracting to avoid social security obligations).

Very few codes contain provisions addressing the rights of home-based workers (Convention 177 and Recommendation 184).

To see how company codes stack up against these standards, see ETAG’s 2006 Transparency Report Card.

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