Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Standards: The relationship between binding and non-binding

One of the characteristics that make the GRI Guidelines universally applicable is that they find their roots in the major international conventions and agreements that form the basis for national and international laws on most environmental and social issues.

During the consensus-seeking process that is used to build the Guidelines often the labor community will typically advocate that the Core Conventions of the ILO be taken as the reference point for performance indicators on work-related issues (the 8 conventions are: 029 Forced Labour 1930; 087 Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize 1948; 098 Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining 1949; 100 Equal remuneration 1951; 105 Abolition of Forced Labour 1957; 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation 1958; 138 Minimum Age Convention 1973; 182 Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour 1999.) Similarly, the environmentalists will also advocate for the peformance indicators to take the major conventions such as the Montreal Protocol and the Basel Convention as reference points.

GRI is not the only organization that tries to create non-binding standards based on the major international binding conventions. As examples, look at the ILO Tripartite Agreement on Multi-National Enterprises, and the OECD Guidelines for Multi-National Enterprises. These are different from GRI's Guidelines as they outline expectations for management and behavior, not reporting, but they are similar to GRI in that they try to bring the conventions to life for companies trying to operate with a committment to sustainability.

I had always wondered whether or not the labour community in particular viewed the GRI Reporting Guidelines as something that reinforced or undermined these conventions - and I got my answer yesterday.

We were lucky to have a senior leader from the Netherlands labor movement come and spend a few hours with our staff. He has spent a lifetime at the interface between workers, employers, and internatinal standard negotiations, and is indeed active in GRI processes. He said that since the relevant labor and social indicators contained in the GRI Guidelines do reference the 8 Core Conventions, this helps to reinforce a single, common, globally accepted standard for treatment of workers, and is therefore reinforcing.

Visit me again on Friday to find out how I think a committment to referencing the major international conventions affects companies ability to report on their performance using GRI's Guidelines.

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