Putting workers’ rights first: a closer look at business strategies to safeguard employees

Published date: 20 September 2023

A new podcast episode on labor now published

It is no secret that employees are the backbone of any successful organization. However, in today's rapidly changing work landscape, businesses may face a number of labor-related and regulatory challenges. How can companies ensure they respect the rights and prioritize the well-being of their workforce? 

The latest episode of The SDG Insider - GRI’s podcast series that bridges corporate reporting and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - explores this question with globally acclaimed experts representing international labor and research organizations as well as labor unions. 

Episode 3 - How to protect workers – online and on the ground – in our changing world 

In this episode we hear from: 

  • Janine Berg, Senior Economist at the International Labour Organization 
  • Jason Judd, Executive Director at the Global Labor Institute, Cornell University 
  • Christy Hoffman, General Secretary at the UNI Global Union 

Together, speakers provide a detailed analysis of existing labor-related issues and regulations - from technological advancements and artificial intelligence (AI) to human rights due diligence policies in the European Union. They also shed light on the interconnection between sustainability disclosure and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). 

For instance, following the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest changes seen in the work landscape all around the world is the surge in remote work and the gig economy, which involves short-term contracts and freelancing, as opposed to permanent employment. While greater independence and flexibility may benefit employees and contribute to a more sustainable work-life balance, oftentimes these new arrangements result in lack of paid leave, social security contributions, and overall job security. 

The introduction of AI and other algorithms in the workplace, sometimes without proper assessment, has a direct impact on workers’ rights and employment. Concerns are being raised about the need for further research and regulations of this emerging technology. 

Supply chains are also increasingly under scrutiny, as a result of due diligence regulations. New policies, such as the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) proposed in the EU, will see businesses take on liabilities in case of violations in their supply chains. This, in turn, can be quite disruptive for labor-intensive sectors, such as agriculture and textiles, which oftentimes rely on low labor costs as part of their business models.  

"Whether it’s remote work arrangements or more conventional employment models, labor-related concerns persist in today’s business world," - explained Margarita Lysenkova, GRI’s Senior Manager – International Policy. "This is why GRI has prioritized the revision of the Labor Topic Standards, covering aspects like employment, child and forced labor, freedom of association, and equal opportunities, among others. The revised set of standards will be rooted in the human rights-based approach, and closely aligned with international authoritative instruments."

The first set of the revised labor-related Topics Standards is expected to be available for public comment in Q2 2024. 

The SDG Insider can also be accessed on Spotify, Apple podcast, and Google podcast. Episodes one and two delved into the regulatory framework of human rights due diligence and climate reporting.  

GRI would like to thank the Government of Sweden for supporting this project through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). 

More resources and tools that help organizations understand and disclose their impacts and contributions to the SDGs are also available.