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Communicating Decent Work to Suppliers

Please refer to the ILO Helpdesk for Business on International Labour Standards for more information on how to align business operations with principles of the MNE Declaration and international labour standards.

Buyer Handout #1

Buyer handout 1: What is decent work?

Decent work is productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom and human dignity. It involves:

  • Opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income
  • Security in the workplace
  • Social protection for families
  • Better prospects for personal development and social integration
  • Freedom for people to express their concerns
  • Freedom to organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives
  • Equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men

Decent work has become a universal objective and has been included in major human rights declarations, UN Resolutions and outcome documents.

In 2015 United Nation Member States agreed on global sustainable development priorities and aspirations which formed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is the current global framework for sustainable development for all countries. Governments, companies and civil society are asked to work together to achieve the Agenda's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).1 Decent work for all is a crucial part of this new global development agenda. Because SDGs are inherently interconnected, action taken toward one goal can support or hinder the achievement of others.2

Business can play a central role in advancing Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”, by contributing to the realization of specific targets:

  • Promoting policies to support job creation and growing enterprises
  • Promoting full employment and decent work with equal pay
  • Promoting youth employment, education and training
  • End modern slavery, trafficking and child labour
  • Protect labour rights and promote safe working environments for all workers

The foundations for supporting decent work is the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,3 through which companies address their impacts on employees and workers in their value chains.

The Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (ILO MNE Declaration) provides direct guidance to enterprises (multinational and national) on social policy and inclusive, responsible and sustainable workplace practices for the realization of decent work for all (see "Learn More" for more information).

The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact4 include four labour principles which derive from the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The labour principles of the UN Global Compact imply the following for enterprises5:

  1. Uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining:
    • Respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
    • Provide the facilities and information required for meaningful negotiations;
    • Support Representative Employers’ organizations.
  2. Uphold the elimination of forced or compulsory labour:
    • Take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of forced labour in your operations – ensure employment is freely chosen.
  3. Uphold the effective abolition of child labour:
    • Respect the minimum age of admission to employment and take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour.
  4. Uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation:
    • Be guided by the principle of non-discrimination and make qualifications, skills and experience the basis for recruitment, placement, training and advancement of staff.

Companies must obey national law, give due consideration to local practices and respect international standards in their efforts to advance these labour principles.

Beyond the benefits to my company, why is decent work important?

Around two billion people in the world – more than 25% of the global population — are part of global value chains or are connected to them via their families or communities.6 These people want to be healthy, safe, treated fairly at work and provide a good future for their children.

Companies that advance decent work in the supply chain can improve the lives of many people — and drive sustainable development.7 Business success is closely linked to the prosperity of the communities in which they produce and sell.

Decent work can have the following impacts:

  • Reduces inequality, reduces conflict, increases resilience in society and contributes to social peace
  • Means individuals and families can meet their needs, send children to school instead of to work, and have money to spend in the local economy
  • Increases tax revenues for governments, so they can fund social investments including education, which helps ensures skilled workers are available
  • Supports the growth and development of companies, including small and medium-sized enterprises, so that they can hire more workers, improve their pay and working and living conditions, and strengthen local and national economies
  • Increases workers loyalty, which impacts their work quality
  1. Decent work and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ILO 

  2. Achieving decent work is linked to other SDGS: End Poverty or Hunger (SDG 1 and 2), assure health and welfare of workers (SDG 3), achieve gender equality (SDG 5) and reduce inequality (SDG 10). 

  3. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

  4. The Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact

  5. Specific actions are based on the ILO MNE Declaration 

  6. Professor John Ruggie, keynote address to the 2016 UN Forum on Business and Human Rights 

  7. Decent work and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ILO