On 24 April 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh killed 1,130 people, mainly textile workers employed in workshops that supply the European market. This tragic event puts the issue of working conditions in certain developing countries into the spotlight, as well as the impacts of deregulated globalization. How to reconcile economic growth and decent work? What role for each stakeholder? These questions were debated at the Agence Française de Développement.

The debate was coordinated by David Eloy, Editor-in-chief of Altermonde. The speakers were Nayla AJALTOUNI, coordinator, Collectif Ethique sur l’Etiquette; Danielle AUROI, M.P. for Puy-de-Dôme and Chair of the European Affairs Commission, French National Assembly; Farid BADDACHE, Director, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR); Christophe QUAREZ, Federal Secretary, French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), Chemistry-Energy; Marie-Odile WATY, rhead of the Non-governmental Organization (NGO) Partnerships Division, Agence Française de Développement (AFD).

Please find below the synthesis of the conference:

On 24 April 2013, the death of 1,130 textile workers in the fire in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, put the issue of decent work in Southern countries in the spotlight once again. Yet this tragic event is just one illustration of the drastic social and environmental consequences of a deregulated economy, based on the large-scale use of subcontracting by big business. In this context, how can growth be combined with decent work in order to create new development models in Southern countries? What responsibilities do companies have in this? What role can unions, NGOs, governments and donors play in advancing business practices?

 Social performance of a deregulated economy

Multinational companies benefit from a deregulated globalization and have been able to open new markets in Southern countries, which have created employment but “lack sound social and environmental legislation” (C. Quarez). Consequently, the global economy has been built to the detriment of “development models able to provide a response to the aspirations for social justice and the reduction of inequalities” (N. Ajaltouni). And this benefits the great principals – and their subcontractors –, which fosters “social and environmental dumping” (C. Quarez).

 

Can companies make globalization responsible ?

However, for some years now, “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices and discourses have been implemented” (N. Ajaltouni) in the form of ethical charters, social audits and responsible procurement policies. Multinational corporations would therefore appear to have a role to play in providing “part of the solution and not only of the problem” (F. Baddache). Yet despite this interesting progress, workers in some countries remain at a major disadvantage “in terms of salaries, working conditions and freedom of association” (N. Ajaltouni). For some, market self-regulation and good corporate practices would consequently not be sufficient (D. Auroi).

 

Trade unions and civil society: promoters of decent work

With the low level of regulation of the world market, “trade unions consider that what comes under CSR should be formalized by means of a contract” (C. Quarez). In this regard, International Framework Agreements (IFAs) for companies provide, for example, “a common framework of social cohesion for all the subsidiaries in a group”, regardless of the country where they are located (C. Quarez). At the same time as this in-house union pressure on corporate practices, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) use a different type of leverage: citizen mobilization. This more specifically requires a “rationalization of consumption patterns” (N. Ajaltouni).

 

Regulation by law or by financing: the role of governments and donors

Governments and financial institutions also have a role to play in consolidating decent work in countries of production. For example, in France, a draft bill was tabled in 2013 on the duty of parent companies and contracting undertakings to remain vigilant with regard to their subsidiaries and subcontractors. It is, however, at the European and global level that state actors must take action to ensure that working conditions are regulated more effectively in the world (D. Auroi). AFD, as a donor, also promotes decent work by making the allocation of its financing subject to compliance with social and environmental criteria by recipient countries. In Cambodia, for example, AFD has an ongoing dialogue with state authorities with the aim of enhancing the enforcement of Cambodian social regulation and strengthening a chain of responsible buyers (M.O. Waty).

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