Closing Governance Gaps: How best to improve workers’ rights in China

07 December 2011

Over the past decade or more, watchdogs of corporate activity, governments, business leaders and non-governmental organizations have all struggled with how best to deal with human rights abuses caused by business activities. One response has been the Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) movement. A plethora of CSR actors now exist: with a wide array of codes of conduct, multi-stakeholder initiatives, and labelling schemes. And although the CSR movement has made many positive contributions, it is now at a turning point.

This study, Closing Governance Gaps: How best to improve workers’ rights in China (written for a conference held in Berlin on 21-22 November 2011) argues that the CSR movement should learn from workers in China who are starting to take the defence of their human rights into their own hands. It stresses that while companies do have an obligation to respect human rights in the workplace, rather than “re-inventing the wheel” with new CSR initiatives or extra-legal activities, companies would be best advised to work with the already developing workers’ movement, and strengthen the indigenous rights defence community and existing architecture. This will help contribute to China’s “rule of law” and allow workers to become the main players in determining their own fate.

The paper is written within the “Protect, Respect, Remedy” framework, created by Harvard Professor John Ruggie, in his capacity as the Special Representative to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to anchor the debate about business and human rights. This framework recognizes that governments play the most important role in this process, and that they have a duty to protect their citizens’ human rights from harm resulting from business activities. Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. And finally, adequate remedies must be provided to the victims of human rights abuse. (For more on this framework, please see here and here).

The full text of Closing Governance Gaps: How best to improve workers’ rights in China, written by CLB’s Development Director William Nee in collaboration with Elisabeth Strohscheidt from MISEREOR, the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation, is available here as a downloadable PDF.

Back to Top

This website uses cookies that collect information about your computer.

Please see CLB's privacy policy to understand exactly what data is collected from our website visitors and newsletter subscribers, how it is used and how to contact us if you have any concerns over the use of your data.