The U.S. State Department has recently released a fundamental source of information for the CSR industry: the 2011 Human Rights Practices Reports. The reports cover over 190 countries and are updated annually with meaningful rights-related events. Such events are a critical means for CSR practitioners, companies, academics, and governments to better understand human rights conditions at the country and regional levels.
As stated by the reports, the 2011 citizen uprisings that took place in the Middle East and North Africa “…have sent aftershocks rumbling around the world…demanding citizens’ universal rights, dignity, greater economic opportunity, and participation.” Considering these events and demands can offer important insight to a country’s advancement on promoting respect for human rights.
This year’s reports document an unfortunate range of negative developments in overall human rights conditions. Although most of the negative backlash is related to political and religious freedom rights, there are also important reverses in the advancement of labor rights. Challenges are particularly related to freedom of association and collective bargaining, prohibition of forced labor, and prohibition of child labor and minimum age of employment.
Overall, national laws grant the right to form and join unions but registering a union has been highly restricted in practice and a considerable number of workers have been illegally penalized for joining unions worldwide. Likewise, unions are generally allowed to bargain collectively but this right was rarely practiced. In the case of compulsory work, although most countries prohibit forced or bonded labor, penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter the offense—which affected particularly women and children—while governments did not seem to effectively enforce the prohibitions.
As for child labor, the reports indicate that even though minimum age and employment of children in certain hazardous sectors is generally regulated in most countries, child labor under the legally allowed age and in dangerous sectors is still widespread. Even though ministries of labor have the duty of inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws, the events documented during 2011 suggest that inspections only took place after complaints were brought by workers, teachers, the media, or NGOs, and that penalties were rarely imposed.
These issues are critical to CSR practices and to accurately assess risks present along the entire supply chain. In order to advise clients on countries, regions, industries, and suppliers, UL RS products and services are heavily informed by these country reports. In conjunction with the UL RS extensive audit database and regional expertise, these reports allow UL RS to produce a wide range of comparisons and trend analyses related to CSR performance within and across countries.
For instance, UL RS has been producing since 2005 its Country Risk Index by combining the country level information provided in the Human Rights reports and the UL RS country audit grades. This index ranks over 180 countries according to social, economic, and political factors—both on the country and factory levels—in order to advise sourcing decisions, supplier segmentation, and allocation of audit resources. These country reports, together with the expertise of staff located on the ground, are also used to develop the UL RS Country Risk Profiles, which provide an overall picture of the most significant human rights violations for a specific country.
UL RS therefore recommends using these reports as means for surveying supply chain programs and targeting identified issues. They will allow CSR practitioners to have a more comprehensive understanding of human rights conditions at the country level and their potential risks, and thus to design strategies that better address these issues.