Labour Standards

Labour Standards

The labour principles of the Global Compact (principles 3-6) are derived from the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. This Declaration was adopted in 1998 by the International Labour Conference, a yearly tripartite meeting that brings together governments, employers and workers from 177 countries.

The aim of the ILO is to harness the support of the business community for these principles through the Global Compact. The labour principles deal with fundamental principles in the workplace and the challenge for business is to take these universally accepted values and apply them at the company level.


Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining. 

Freedom of association implies a respect for the right of employers and workers to freely and voluntarily establish and join organizations of their own choice. It further implies that these organizations have the right to carry out their activities in full freedom and without interference. Collective bargaining refers to the process or activity leading up to the conclusion of a collective agreement.

Collective bargaining is a voluntary process used to determine terms and conditions of work and the regulation of relations between employers, workers and their organizations.

Some suggested steps:
  • Ensure that company policies and procedures do not discriminate against individuals because of their views on trade unions or for their trade union activities.
  • Provide information needed for meaningful bargaining.
  • In countries where the government does not permit respect for human rights (including rights at work) or does not provide a proper legal and institutional framework for industrial relations and collective bargaining, preserve the confidentiality of trade unions and leaders.


Principle 4: Businesses should uphold the elimination of forced or compulsory labour. 

Forced labour is a fundamental violation of human rights. Most victims receive little or no earnings, and work for long hours in extremely poor conditions of health and safety. Forced or compulsory labour is any work or service (whether or not wages or compensation are offered) that is extracted from any person under the menace of any penalty, and for which that person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily. By right, labour should be freely given and employees should be free to leave. While companies operating legally do not normally employ such practices, forced labour can become associated with enterprises through their use of contractors and suppliers.

Some suggested steps:
  • Have a clear policy not to use, be complicit in, or benefit from forced labour.
  • Ensure that all company officials have a full understanding of what forced labour is.
  • If relying on labour providers for recruitment, ensure that no forced labour is supplied.
  • Write employment contracts in language easily understood by workers, indicating the scope of and procedures for leaving the job.


Principle 5: Businesses should uphold the effective abolition of child labour. 

Child labour is work that is damaging to a child’s physical, social, mental, psychological and spiritual development because it is work performed at too early an age. Child labour deprives children of their childhood and their dignity. They are deprived of an education and may be separated from their families. Children who do not complete their basic education are likely to remain illiterate and never acquire the skills needed to get a job and contribute to the development of a modern economy. Consequently, child labour results in under-skilled, unqualified workers and jeopardizes future improvements of skills in the workforce.

The ILO’s Minimum Age Convention calls for the fixing of a minimum working age (usually about 15) in line with the end of compulsory schooling. It gives flexibility options (for instance in developing countries) for work done in the context of training, or for light work that does not affect schooling.

Some suggested steps:
  • Be aware of countries, regions, sectors, economic activities where there is a greater likelihood of child labour.
  • Adhere to minimum age provisions of national labour laws and regulations.
  • Develop and implement mechanisms to detect child labour.
  • Support and help design community educational, vocational training, and counseling programmes for working children.
  • In communities, encourage and assist in launching supplementary health and nutrition programmes for children removed from dangerous work, and provide medical care.


Principle 6: Businesses should uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. 

Discrimination in employment means treating people differently or less favourably because of characteristics that are not related to their merit or the inherent requirements of the job (e.g., race, age, disability, gender). Discrimination can arise in a variety of work-related activities, including access to employment, to particular occupations, and to training and vocational guidance.

Some suggested steps:
  • Implement policies and procedures which make qualifications, skill and experience the basis for the recruitment, placement, training and advancement of staff.
  • Establish programs to promote access to skills development training.
  • Provide staff training on disability awareness and reasonably adjust the physical environment.


Visit the Global Compact Website page on Labour for more detailed and up-to-date information, recommended tools and guidance materials.