Business and human rights

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Gordon Kricke (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2017 - 4:00pm

As a student making an internship in a company some 30 years ago I was quite annoyed that I had to work without being paid. As a diplomat many years later I found it embarrassing that we had interns working sometimes long hours, but we were not able to compensate them financially. It is of course true, an internship is not a real job but part of the professional training and it is done mostly for the own benefit of the student. However, interns often make a valuable contribution to the institution where they are working and I think it is only fair to give them some financial support as a sign of respect and recognition. Therefore I was relieved when some years ago the German Foreign Office decided to change its rules and grant a monthly expense allowance to interns.

This is of course only a small and insignificant example. But the bigger picture of social justice and corporate responsibility is indeed very important. The UN Human Rights Council adopted unanimously in 2011 the “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” These principles define the state’s human rights duties and corporate responsibilities in global value and supply chains. The state has the duty to protect human rights and the companies have the responsibility to respect these rights, in particular those related to adequate labor and safety standards, and the obligation to avoid discrimination in employment and to ban child labor.

The German government recently adopted the “National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights” with the objective to implement the UN Guiding Principles. The Action Plan was drafted in consultation with business associations, trade unions and NGOs. The expectation is clear: Companies must give due diligence to human rights in Germany and worldwide. German companies are already known for usually strictly following existing rules and regulations and for having comparatively high labor and safety standards. The Action Plan will reinforce this reputation even further.

An increasing number of consumers not only in Germany but worldwide now expect products which are in line with environmentally friendly, humane and sustainable practices. But even more important is to have in mind that only a society that guarantees some degree of fairness and social justice is stable and peaceful in the long run. Human rights are essential for peace. There can be no peace without justice and respect for human rights. Peace does not just mean putting an end to violence or war, but to all other factors that can lead to conflict, such as discrimination, inequality or poverty. To achieve that objective governments and the private sector have to work hand in hand.

Also relatively minor or incremental improvements are relevant. In the context of the relationship between Germany and the Philippines there is some good news in that respect. The social security agreement between both countries has been approved last week by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Philippine Senate under the chair of Senator Legarda. This agreement will ensure social security benefits of Filipinos and Germans working in the respective other country. This is a small but important and concrete step to guarantee the rights of overseas workers of both countries.

It is not only positive for the bilateral relationship between Germany and the Philippines but it also makes a real difference in the life of some hardworking people in both countries.

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(Gordon Kricke is the Ambassador of Germany.)

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