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Corporate liability for violations of the human right to just conditions of work in extraterritorial operations
The international journal of human rights
When 250 workers die in a fire at a Pakistani factory producing jeans for a German discount chain, when the work day lasts 12 hours in Cambodia’s garment industry or when workers commit suicide in Chinese factories producing electronics for international brands, should only the corporations in Pakistan, Cambodia and China be held liable? What about the liability of their parent and subcontracting companies abroad? The United Nations increasingly recommends that states ensure that enterprises domiciled in their territory respect human rights throughout their extraterritorial operations. Furthermore, the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommend that parent and subcontracting companies conduct human rights due diligence. Both developments are reflected in General Comment 23, which was recently adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and relates to the right to just conditions of work. To date, however, there is no domestic law that specifically addresses the liability of parent or subcontracting companies for violations of the right to just working conditions of employees of foreign subsidiaries or suppliers. Although case law is emerging, much uncertainty remains about criteria establishing such liability. France and Switzerland are discussing legislative steps for clarifying corporate liability beyond disclosure requirements to ensure compliance with international recommendations.
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