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Millennium Project

By the International Centre for Trade Union Rights,
13 July 2000


The purpose of ICTUR's latest project (undertaken together with the Institute of Employment Rights, a UK labour law think tank) is to set out those basic trade union rights which the international labour movement regards as fundamental rights, with a view to then campaigning for their incorporation into international instruments and domestic law by national governments

ICTUR aims to commence the process of formulating the body of trade union rights which it would like to see embodied in both international labour instruments and the national law of governments around the world. It is not put forward as a definitive statement of what those rights should be. It is primarily an examination of the existing body of international trade union rights (and the law and practice of various countries) with some suggestions for improvement, and is intended to inspire discussion and debate on the subject.

The initial booklet which began this project, Anthony Forsyth's Trade Union Rights for the Next Millennium (published last year by ICTUR), and the 1st draft of the 'Millennium Project' are drawn from examples found in mainly European and Australian labour law systems. ICTUR has called upon its representatives in various contrasting jurisdictions for comment but, in view of the need to make the project truly representative, comments and suggestions are invited from all.

The next stage of the project, the 1st draft of the Millennium Project, is to be published on this website (and in print form) to coincide with ICTUR's Administrative Council meeting in Geneva, and has been prepared by Professor Keith Ewing of King's College London (Legal Editor of International Union Rights journal). An introductory article explaining the project further follows the timetable below.


Summer 1999 Publication of Anthony Forsyth's Trade Union Rights for the Next Millennium.

May 2000 Publication of 1st draft of Millennium Project.

June 2000 Discussion of draft and comments at 16th Session of ICTUR's Administrative Council in Geneva.

June 2000 Publication of International Union Rights journal 7.2 (focus on Core Labour rights).

Summer 2000 ICTUR International and the National Committee's promote the draft and invite discussion.

September 11th 2000 ICTUR fringe meeting at the UK TUC to launch the final text of the Millennium Project.

October 2000 Publication of the Millennium Project.

November 25th 2000 ICTUR Conference on Core Labour Rights and the Millennium Project, London.

Other events Conferences to launch the Millennium Project are being planned in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. For more information or to assist with launching the project in another country please contact ICTUR Head Office.

Modernising Labour Standards ICTUR's Initiative

Under the chairmanship of Professor Keith Ewing a group of London based ICTUR activists have been preparing a draft paper on the future of international labour standards. This draft is now available from ICTUR's Head Office and will be posted on this website in June. It is planned, with financial support from the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, to publish a final report later this year in conjunction with the British based Institute of Employment Rights, a labour movement supported think-tank. The draft paper has been circulated to all ICTUR National Committees and Correspondents and to a number of trade union organisations in all parts of the world. ICTUR is asking those organisations and IUR readers to send comments and suggestions by the 1st August 2000 for inclusion in the final publication.

Freedom of Association

ICTUR believes that the principles of freedom of association need to be significantly strengthened. If we now live in a new global economy it ought to be an economy in which the dignity of everyone is respected. It should be an economy in which the benefits should not be confined to the owners of the multinational corporations; nor should it be run to serve the interests of global corporations. These concerns have important implications for freedom of association. One of the most effective ways by which people can protect the dignity of themselves and their families is through the medium of strong and independent trade unions. Neither modernity nor post - modernity have yet devised a better alternative.

New Rights in a Globalised Economy

The draft proposes a new international code on Freedom of Association to include the following:

  • The Right to Trade Union Membership, Participation and Representation
  • the right of workers to belong to an independent trade union for the protection of their interests;
  • the right of workers to take part in the activities of a trade union outside working hours and during working hours with the consent of the employer;
  • the right of workers to be represented by a trade union official in matters relating to their employment.

The Right to Trade Union Autonomy

  • the right of trade unions to organise their internal affairs free from state interference, and free from interference by employers;
  • the right of trade unions to elect their own officials and develop their own programmes free from state interference.

The Right to Trade Union Recognition

  • the right of trade union access to an employer's premises at the request of workers employed there;
  • the right of a trade union to be recognised for the purposes of collective bargaining on all matters relating to the contract of employment;
  • the right of a trade union to facilities for the purposes of collective bargaining, including the disclosure of information.

The Right to Strike

  • the right of a trade union to organise strike or other industrial action in order to promote the social and economic interests of their members;
  • the right of workers to take part in lawful industrial action without being discriminated against or dismissed by their employer or the State;
  • the right of trade unions and workers to take strike or other industrial action in support of other trade unions and workers in dispute with an employer.

The Rights of Trade Union Representatives

  • the right of trade union representatives elected or nominated by a trade union to be recognised as such by an employer
  • the right of trade union representatives to protection from dismissal or other prejudice by reason of their trade union activities
  • the right of the trade union representative to access to workers and to facilities at the workplace to enable him or her to carry out his or her duties The Rights of International Trade Union Federations
  • the right to bargain with multinationals on the observance of core labour standards;
  • the right to be consulted by multinationals about transnational issues affecting employment by the company in question;
  • the right to organise industrial action against multinational enterprises, and the right of national affiliates and their members to take part in such action.

International Union Rights

In terms of the Code proposed above, the most novel proposal relates to the last group, which deals with rights for international trade unions. This must be a focal point of any future strategy. Trade unions must have the right not just to be in association with trade unions from other countries, but also to act in association. To this end they should be empowered to initiate discussions with a view to reaching Ethical Trading Agreements with multinational companies.

The essential features of these agreements are as follows:

  • They should include a commitment to the core freedom of association conventions, as well as a prohibition on the use of child labour and forced labour , no discrimination, and a safe and healthy workplace;
  • They should be 'central to all the company's activities. They should be incorporated into all contracts between the company, its contractors, and sub-contractors'.
  • They should be jointly monitored by a 'Compliance Council' which should also include independent members. Any interested party should be free to complain to the Council, and any complaints should be independently investigated.
  • They should provide for practices among contractors and sub-contractors to be regularly inspected by independent inspectors.
  • This process of inspection should take place in addition to and independently of any complaints procedure. But a multinational should not have the opportunity to avoid its social responsibilities by the failure to reach an agreement with a union. Tthere ought to be a procedure whereby an international or national trade union organisation can refer a complaint to the ILO Freedom of Association Committee alleging a breach of Conventions 87 or 98 by a corporation in respect of its conduct in a third country. The right to complain should apply in respect of the conduct of the company, its subsidiaries, its suppliers, and any other body in the supply chain.

Strategies for Compliance

Turning to the need for a range of strategies for enforcement and compliance with freedom of association principles, it is anticipated that international trade union action of the kind proposed here would have a valuable role to play. Ethical trading agreements would help ensure that trade union rights are observed through the deep roots of the multinational supply chain, in a manner which would be based on a process of supervision in which trade unions would be closely involved. But it is not only multinationals which bear the responsibility of respecting trade union rights. Governments also play a major part: indeed it is on States that the obligation to implement and comply with conventions principally lies. It for this reason that a range of devices is necessary to encourage and promote compliance.

So what else can be done? In the first place, there is the potential provided by international agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank: both should be required to follow and apply ILO Conventions in their relationships with national governments. Compliance could be a condition of aid; and at local level compliance by contractors could be a condition of a public works contract. Initiatives linking trade with union rights such as those taken recently by the EU should also be encouraged, linked as they must be to wider reforms of international trade arrangements to advance social and economic development particularly of poorer countries.

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