Archive | November, 2012

The Right to Work in Northern Ireland

6 Nov

by Caroline Parkes


On 1st November 2012, a senior prison officer, David Black, was shot on his way to work.  His murder, the first of a prison officer since 1993, showed that peace in Northern Ireland remains a fragile concept.  But this also resonates with the very specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, a place where, even over a decade after the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, your life is still potentially in danger on the basis of your career choice.

Security forces, police and prison officers have long been considered fair targets for violence for first, republicans and now, dissident republicans.  In the last three years or so, Ronan Kerr, a young Catholic officer from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) was killed in a car bomb in front of his house in April 2011; Stephen Carroll, also a Catholic PSNI officer, was killed in March 2009; Sappers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey were murdered at the Massereene Barracks, also in March 2009.  Though these deaths cannot be considered as indicative of a return to the dark days of the conflict, they are emblematic of the fact that despite significant progress made in establishing and embedding a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland, there is still more work to be done.

For some, especially in working class loyalist and republican estates, the ‘peace dividend’ after 1998 was limited.  The money which flooded into Northern Ireland did not sufficiently trickle down to these communities and the lives of many young people continues to be marred by limited educational and employment opportunities.  Research has shown that these communities, for example those in North Belfast, remain deeply divided.   As the Community Relations Council reported earlier this year:

The number of interfaces [the area where segregated nationalist and unionist areas meet]  in Northern Ireland was 22 when the Belfast Agreement was signed; today the number is as high as 88 by some estimates. We still see flags and emblems as prominently displayed during the marching season as before the Agreement. Deep divisions in housing and education also remain.

More broadly, as the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Group noted in a 2012 report:

Ninety per cent of social housing in Northern Ireland is still segregated. And while 6.5% of children now attend integrated schools, this means the other 93.5% are separated into Catholic and Protestant schools. Sectarian division persists too in electoral politics. No new political party has emerged since the 1998 Agreement, and the stability of Northern Ireland politics, [ …] is to do with the equilibrium achieved between the two blocs rather than any reconciliation between the two political cultures.

After the murder of Ronan Kerr, there was a rally in Belfast city centre where commitments to peace were re-affirmed and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions called for people in Northern Ireland to be able to work without fear of intimidation, violence or death.  As the murders of Ronan Kerr and Stephen Carroll showed, these fears were not unfounded.   A former young colleague of mine, from a family she described as nationalist, was keen to join the PSNI.  She decided that there were members of her extended family, for whom such job would mean she would be a legitimate target for violence, and thus she would not risk enrolling.  I have another Catholic friend from West Belfast who told me that no-one apart from his wife knew that their son was a serving police officer.  What does it mean then to have a job where you check under your car each morning? Where you are issued with body armour and a personal protection weapon? Or where you can’t tell your friends and neighbours who you work for? Where you have to drive miles to ensure you work in an area where you won’t be recognised?

Those who join the PSNI or the Prison Service are undoubtedly aware of the dangers they face. reinforced, for example, by the attack on Peadar Heffron, a Catholic Irish speaker and captain of the PSNI Gaelic Athletic Association team, who was badly injured in the dissident car bomb attack in January 2010.  Without cross-community recruitment into these services, the chances for  developing representative policing and prison service, which reflects all of Northern Ireland’s communities, remains a distant dream.

But increasing and diversifying recruitment to agencies which previously represented sectarian dominance is difficult.  Attempts to cleanse these institutions of their sometimes murky pasts have proven problematic.  Large scale redundancies of the old vanguard of prison officers has proven very expensive, and recruitment of new Catholic officers has been limited.  A focus on cost-cutting measures, such as bringing in new, young officers on lower salaries rather than effectively addressing the lack of community diversity within the Prison Service, may reveal the depth of the commitment to diversity.  Equally, while the recruitment of Catholic officers into the PSNI has met the threshold (of 30%) set out by the Patten Commission, research has found that this recruitment is not representative of the Catholic community as a whole and this recruitment is offset by the relatively high numbers of new Catholic officers leaving the within a short period of time.  Similarly, those who took the Patten severance package, developed to enable a new generation of younger, more representative (and arguably less sectarian) police officers to be recruited, were often re-hired as agency workers.   Research also found that while the badges and emblems of the PSNI changed, and training undertaken on human rights, equality, community policing, sectarianism is an ongoing part of ‘canteen culture’.

The protests within Maghaberry Prison, David Black’s workplace, by dissident prisoners has resulted in an ongoing battle with the Prison Service; extending outside the prison gates, with a number of prison officers having to move homes after intelligence showed they were under threat.   A rejection of strip searches by prisoners and concerns over restricted movement led, in 2010, to a delicately brokered deal between prisoners and the Prison Service.  However, this deal later collapsed with accusations that the Prison Service had failed to uphold their part of the agreement.

Dissident republicans may be in the minority and at the extreme but there are some in Northern Ireland who believe that little has changed since the conflict.  Nationalists continue to be the subject of undue harassment, the use of ‘supergrasses’ undermines the criminal justice system, families bereaved by the conflict remain disappointed by efforts at state sanctioned truth recovery, allegations of collusion between loyalists and the British government continue to seep out like a poisonous cloud over reconciliation efforts, and the Bill of Rights process remains stalled. This was summed up in a post by the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a Belfast-based human rights group:

The proved or alleged human rights abuses that were perpetrated by the UK state during the conflict include state sanctioned murder, torture, collusion with non-state armed groups, detention without trial and denial of a fair trial, accompanied by a culture of impunity, together with toleration of religious and other forms of discrimination. The exposure and holding to account of elements of the state for these crimes is a so far uncompleted task.

More needs to be done to both effectively address this legacy and to thoroughly develop a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland.  Dissident violence cannot be blamed solely on these unresolved issues, but their continued momentum within communities in Northern Ireland speaks to entrenched social, economic and political inequalities which remain unaddressed.  Freedom to choose one’s place and kind of work, without threat of violence or intimidation should be a given for all in Northern Ireland.  The fact that there remain those who are denied this right should be seen within the wider difficulties and failures of this peace process.

Stopping slavery – can assessing supply chains make a difference?

2 Nov

by Caroline Parkes, The Trafficking Research Project

In June 2012, the Labour MP Michael Connarty submitted a Private Members Bill which sought to:

Require large companies in the UK to make annual statements of measures taken by them to eradicate slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and the worst forms of child labour (as set out in Article 3 of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 182) from their supply chains; to require such companies to provide customers and investors with information about measures taken by them to eliminate slavery, human trafficking, forced labour and the worst forms of child labour; to provide victims of slavery with necessary protections and rights; and for connected purposes.

Currently this proposed legislation is in its second reading (the first opportunity for Members of Parliament to debate the main principles of the Bill) in the House of Commons.  The Transparency in UK Company Supply Chains (Eradication of Slavery) Bill echoes the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, recognising a more holistic interpretation of ‘modern day slavery’ in a globalised world, beyond the oft-repeated focus on sex trafficking.  Though brief, this Bill has the potential to improve the UK’s response to trafficking by requiring that companies publicly declare their efforts to eradicate slavery; where companies find such issues, they ‘shall take action necessary and appropriate to assist people who have been victims and shall report on that action in their annual reports.’  So far, so good.

But, a closer reading of the proposed legislation highlights a number of problems.

Firstly, we have concerns about the use of the phrase ‘worst forms of child labour’ which seems, perhaps erroneously, to indicate that there are acceptable forms of child labour.  There is of course a difference between sweeping leaves from the family driveway for pocket money and sustained work undertaken by children, often in hazardous conditions, which prohibits their access to education and impedes their development.  The definition as set out in Article 3 of the International Labour Organisation’s Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour and referenced by the Bill represents the most horrific end of the exploitative labour spectrum.  Rather, there is scope in utilising the broader interpretation of child labour as set out by the ILO in its work on this issue, which states:

The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
  • interferes with their schooling by:
  • depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
  • obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
  • requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

A forthcoming UN report to be launched next week by the UN Special Envoy on Education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will, according to the Guardian argue that ‘in China, under-age labour recruited by networks of agents from poor rural areas “has been found in factories supplying companies such as Apple, Samsung and Google”.’  This shows that the Bill is well-timed, but highlights the need to develop legislation moving beyond the ‘worst forms of child labour’ to affect the greatest change in assuring ‘clean’ supply chains.  Further, it is important to provide sufficient delineation between trafficking, labour exploitation and labour abuse within the assessment proposed in this legislation.

Secondly, the legislation will only apply to companies with annual global receipts of £100,000,000.  We advocate the inclusion of smaller companies within this framework; for instance companies with global receipts of £1 million will also have significant supply chains in which labour exploitation and trafficking could be an issue.  While we acknowledge concerns that this Bill may place a financial burden on companies to examine their supply chains effectively and make relevant changes, with coherent systems in place this burden should not be prohibitive.  Companies targeted by the Bill as well as smaller companies may fall within the scope of proposals from the Department of Business, Skills and Innovation, published this month, which will mean that:

quoted companies (those incorporated in the UK and listed on certain UK, EU or US markets) will be required to report, to the extent necessary for an understanding of the business, on their strategy, their business model, and any human rights issues.

Labour exploitation and trafficking are human rights issues, so such measures should be positive; with the caveat that the phrase ‘to the extent necessary for an understanding of the business’ is potentially limiting.  Taking this further, considering its buying power, Government, as a whole and as the sum of its parts (for example, the National Health Service), should also be subject to the same requirements.

Much work has been undertaken in recent years to engage various levels of business in a productive dialogue on human rights.  The UN Global Compact is a key example of this approach.  This has also been reflected in the work of organisations such as the Institute for Business and Human Rights; for example, though their joint campaign with Anti-Slavery International, a campaign which engages with the hospitality industry to improve labour standards.  While businesses may not be the subject of international human rights law, arguably they have a responsibility to respect human rights in their operations.

Thirdly, the scheme is lacking an effective stick.  There is no penalty for companies that may elect not to participate in the scheme, or those which utilise a substandard or inappropriate compliance assessment framework, for example, those which fail to carry out thorough inspections of their supply chains.  The development of a centralised regulatory oversight agency could assess the information supplied and establish a company’s efforts, both in reporting and combating trafficking and increase publicity on the disclosure of the annual statements of measures, which are currently limited to a company’s annual report and website.  Similarly, such a body could have the power to apply sanctions to companies which consistently fail to address trafficking and exploitation in their supply chains.  As noted by Michael Connarty during the second debate, there is space for the development of a kite mark, or similar scheme, to indicate if companies have reached the required standard.

Finally, the process of assessment proposed in this Bill is self-regulating.  In this respect, there are benefits in referring to the relevant international standards on trafficking and forced labour beyond citations to the ILO Convention; particularly regarding clause 2(c) of the Bill which encourages compliance with local national laws on trafficking and exploitation.  This clause ignores countries which lack designated legislation for trafficking and/or labour exploitation.  Efforts by Government need to be focused on developing legislation within these countries and thus making such countries unfriendly environments for those seeking exploited labour.  In this respect, much can be learned from the Global Framework Agreements, developed by trade unions to increase the protection of labour rights by multinationals.  For example, the Global Framework Agreement with Skanska (a global engineering and  construction company) protects eight fundamental labour rights, and directly resonates with the ILO and international law.

Clause 2(f) of the Bill focuses on recruitment practices used by suppliers and requires that they ‘comply with the company‘s standards for eliminating exploitative labour practices…’.  Again, absent from this requirement is any mention of national or international standards for eliminating exploitative practices and the provision of a framework for this assessment.

The issue of independence and spontaneity of inspections and assessments undertaken by companies needs to be reconsidered.  Clause 2(a) notes that the report ‘shall specify if the verification was not conducted by a person independent of the organisation …’; clause 3(b) requires disclosure whether advance notice was given of the audit.  Companies have a perverse incentive not to expose labour exploitation, given the potential costs involved and it would seem imperative that such verification should be conducted by an independent body. While companies may argue a capability to undertake thorough and unbiased assessments, as corporate social responsibility efforts have shown, a tension between human rights compliance and profit too often favours the side of profit.  It would be useful to assess the actual costs of such audits and any studies undertaken to assess the impact of negative publicity on labour issues and company profits.

The Bill proposes, at clause 3, that companies which encounter forced labour in their supply chains ‘shall take action necessary and appropriate to assist people who have been victims’.  This sentiment is positive, but should go further.  For example, there should be a requirement to report such exploitation to relevant national authorities, both in the country of exploitation, where this will serve to strengthen efforts to address exploitation issues at their source, and in the UK, which is particularly relevant in cases where the national authorities in the country of exploitation may be corrupt.

The Bill was introduced as Private Members Bill which means that it does not form part of the Government’s legislative work plan.  This makes passing such legislation more difficult.  At the Bill’s second reading on 19 October, Michael Connarty MP queried why the Bill had been transferred from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to the Minister for Immigration, commenting that while the Bill was partially concerned with human trafficking, the issue was slavery and labour exploitation in supply chains and that the Bill was concerned with trade and business and not migration per se.  The opposition Conservative, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP was encouraging of the sentiment behind the Bill.  Indeed the proposals find resonance with the Government’s commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the recent development of a toolkit to assist business working aboard, but concern remains that the Government is constructing the supply chain issue as one of immigration.

Portioning out the issue to be either immigration or business is significant following the cuts to the budget of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA), the agency which regulates labour providers or ‘gangmasters’ who provide temporary workers anywhere in the UK.  As a joint GLA and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency raid in early October showed, the use of exploited labour continues to be a serious issue – the raid found Lithuanian workers in situations of debt bondage, housed in substandard accommodation, seriously underpaid and the victims of abuse and violence.  They were ‘working’ for, according to the Guardian, ‘large chicken farms in a chain that supplies premium free range eggs to McDonald’s, Tesco, Asda and M&S, “Woodland” eggs to Sainsbury’s, and the Freedom Food and Happy Eggs brands to leading retailers’.  Cutting the budgets of existing oversight mechanisms appears to be a short-sighted view of the issue by Government.

The Bill has gained broad civil society support, including the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, a range of churches such as the Church of Scotland, as well as NGOs concerned directly with forced labour, trafficking and vulnerable groups.  It is hoped that the momentum gathered here can be transferred to Parliamentarians to participate in the debate on this Bill specifically and the issue of business and human rights more broadly.  This Bill represents a good starting point but, as our critique has shown, there is the potential to do more.

This article originally appeared on The Trafficking Research Project blog. TTRP are a collaborative initiative analysing the issue of human trafficking. Utilising human rights and social policy perspectives, TTRP aims to make a positive and pragmatic contribution to the current policy and research developments on this issue.

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