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Right to reasonable hours of work and paid holidays

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Article 24: Right to reasonable hours of work and paid holidays

  • In an interconnected world where large and influential transnational corporations compete for resources and new markets, economic activity and human rights are increasingly intertwined.
  • The vast expansion in trade, investment, and regional trade agreements such as NAFTA, has had profound effects on labour standards internationally.
  • While some regions have benefited, the negative effects are most obvious in the export processing zones around the world where minimum labour standards are regularly violated. One such example is Mexico which now houses over two thousand companies which manufacture goods for the American market.
  • The UN Global Compact is an international initiative that aims to ensure respect for human rights including labour rights, and to promote the integration of these rights into business operations.

Mexico's Maquilas

Since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, some 2,700 of factories have sprung up in Mexico, usually to be found in export processing zones or maquilas where labour laws are more relaxed than in the USA.

Despite the long hours and low pay, people flock to the region in search of work.

An abundance of cheap labour has made Mexico an ideal location for companies manufacturing goods intended for sale in the American market.

In these so-called 'sweatshops', employees work long hours for very low wages. While the employee of a US garment maker would earn around $8 dollars per hour, a Mexican counterpart could be paid as little as 85 cents.

Corporate Responsibility

In response to rising concerns about the effects of globalisation and the increasing power and influence of multinational enterprise, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan first proposed the UN Global Compact in an address to The World Economic Forum on 31 January 1999.

The UN Global Compact is an initiative that urges transnational corporations to operate in a socially responsible manner.

It encourages corporations to promote and protect human rights in their business operations and other areas of influence.

The Global Compact aims to bring companies together with UN agencies, labour, non-governmental organisations and other civil-society actors to promote action and partnerships in the pursuit of greater corporate responsibility.

Principles Outlined in the Initiative

The Global Compact is based on nine principles in the areas of human rights, labour, and the environment.

These principles are derived from universally accepted standards based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

The principles related to labour are as follows:
  • Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
  • The effective abolition of child labour; and
  • Eliminate discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

The Global Compact asks companies to integrate these principles into their corporate-management strategy and decision-making and to pursue projects and corporate activities that advance the principles and broad UN goals.


To be considered a participant in the Global Compact, a company is required to provide, once a year, a concrete example of how it is internalising one or more of the nine principles into management practices and policies.

Ericsson, for instance, has been developing an audit program to ensure compliance with the principles of the Global Compact - both internally and externally. The company has developed instructions and audit routines to check compliance with the right to have a workplace free of harassment and discrimination, and to observe the standard of working conditions including the right to a safe working environment and regular wages.

It has used this reporting system within its own operations and with some of its suppliers in Brazil and China.


The Global Compact is a voluntary set of principles. Although it has been widely recognised as a positive step in encouraging corporations to act responsibly, some question whether its implementation can be effective.

Critics argue that challenges to the initiative's effectiveness are its lack of legally enforceable standards, independent monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and clarity about the meaning of the standards themselves.