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Giving investors and asset managers the tools to protect basic worker rights

news 14 Jul 2022

Investors need to be aware of what fund managers are doing with their money and ensure it isn’t funding violations of workers’ human rights, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said today.

The announcement follows the publication by the Global Unions’ Committee on Workers’ Capital (CWC) of Baseline (minimum) Expectations for Asset Managers on Fundamental Labour Rights. This important work is wholeheartedly endorsed by the ITF.

“In a world where companies are blinkered to focus only on profit, it is all too easy for investors to be misled into neglecting the rights of workers,” said Paddy Crumlin, President of the ITF and Vice-President of the CWC. “And the unprecedented amount of spin in investor relations makes it difficult to ensure worker rights are truly being respected.”

“Progressive investors want to know what they should be looking for and are asking unions for help. The CWC Expectations give trustees on pension funds a tool to make sure human rights are a priority and a way to use their influence to encourage all companies to behave fairly towards the workers on whom their businesses rely,” said Crumlin.

Developed by trade unions and pension fund board members as part of the CWCs Asset Manager Accountability Initiative, the CWC Baseline Expectations will help trustees understand where investments are going and ensure that the asset managers they contract are taking fundamental labour rights into account properly.

Human and labour rights

The most basic principles on worker rights, as defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) are:

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.
  • A safe and healthy working environment.
  • The elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour.
  • The elimination of discrimination.
  • The abolition of child labour.

Many multinational transport companies have environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) policies these days, with human rights being embedded in the ‘social’ part of that. Unfortunately, these policies do not always convert into credible, committed action by employers.

“We need to ensure ESG policies have real teeth in protecting workers,” said Crumlin. “Through investors, we can start to persuade companies to live up to their obligations. To stamp out child labour and forced labour. To allow free association and collective bargaining to get people decent pay in safe working conditions. To tackle discrimination in the workplace.”

Although the Baseline Expectations starts with minimum, baseline requirements, it takes investors beyond that, so they understand what good practice looks like. It provides a framework, anchored in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. This explains investor responsibilities to conduct due diligence on worker rights.

It also outlines stewardship practices in public equities (including how to manage proxy voting and shareholder engagement) and for private markets. Finally, it explains how to be an advocate for worker rights in the investment process.

The CWC Baseline Expectations were developed collaboratively by trade union officials and pension fund trustees affiliated to unions, including: the Australian Council of Trade Unions (Australia), AFL-CIO (USA), Comisiones Obreras (Spain), FNV (Netherlands), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), UNI Global Union, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) and the ITF.