Monday, January 29, 2007

Standards: Internationally binding, locally disconnected

Building on last week's discussion on the reinforcing and synergistic relationship between the GRI Guidelines and the major international conventions, I want to turn my eye today towards what this means for the local practitioner trying to make sense of it all.

Some months ago I was in Australia giving a GRI Guidelines orientation session to a group of people in charge of, or involved in, reporting in their companies and public agencies. When we got to the labor section of the Guidelines indicator LA2 stumped them.

LA2: Percentage of employees covered by collective bargaining agreements.

One participant asked "Why is this indicator in the Guidelines when no law exists on collective bargaining?" Another participant was concerned that their company might look bad in the public realm if they answered "zero" but were not able to explain that they were not legally required to offer collective bargaining to their workforce.

Our senior labor visitor last week explained that all ILO member countries vote to accept or decline the convention at the international level, and that Australia had long ago done that for the collective bargaining convention. The country is then required to alert its parliament (or equivilent law making body) to the existence of the convention, but the country is in no way bound to ratifying it and hence making it bindng in their jurisdiction. In the case of collective bargaining the ILO convention is not the basis of law in Australia, a different approach to industrial relations is taken. Thus, when an Australian company looks to the GRI Guidelines on labor issues, there is a disconnect between the international convention and the reality of the laws applicable to the company.

There are two positives associated with this:
-There is enough flexibility in the GRI reporting framework that a company can report on what it is doing to uphold the law where it differs from international conventions
-The presence of the indicator may help inspire best practice towards international standards, and going "beyond compliance."

Have you experienced a disconnect between the major international connections and the local laws in your region? On what issues?

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