In describing the rights companies should respect, the UN Global Compact and the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights refer to the ILO's 1998 Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Company codes of conduct, and various certification, audit and reporting entities use language that is identical or similar to that found in the ILO Declaration. For years the International Labour Organization (ILO) was viewed as the authority on what certain human rights mean in the work context. This certainty was challenged in June 2012 when the Employers Group at the International Labour Conference (ILC) attacked the ILO's Committee of Experts (CEACR) for discussing the right to strike as part of its commentary on Convention No. 87, Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise. Underlying this criticism was the Employers' awareness that others were using the General Survey of the CEACR to comprehend the scope of certain human rights found in statements such as the UN Global Compact. The Employers identified 'the critical issue' as the fact that the CEACR's 'observations were being viewed by the outside world as a form of soft law labour standards jurisprudence.'
This article will set out the 1998 ILO Declaration and will then discuss the two major UN pronouncements on human rights at work. It will review the standards used by other entities active in this space. This article will conclude that companies must accept that society has placed certain responsibilities on them to apply human rights in their sphere of control. It will also argue that for the post-World War II concept of universal human rights to remain valid and effective, there must be agreement on what specific rights mean in practice and that, in turn, requires acceptance of an international body's legitimacy in making these determinations.International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations