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September 13, 2010
European Companies Violate International Labor Standards in US Operations
    by Robert Kropp

A new report from Human Rights Watch finds that despite publicly stated commitments to international standards, European companies operating in the US often exploit weak US laws to discourage workers' freedom of association.

In a recently published report entitled A Strange Case: Violations of Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States by European Multinational Corporations, Human Rights Watch asserts that many European multinational corporations "exploit the loopholes and shortcomings in US labor law that violate international human rights standards or violate US law that comports with international standards to frustrate workers' exercise of their right to freedom of association."

The corporations, the report continued, which "proclaim their adherence to international labor law and standards that are embodied in their home countries' domestic laws, and largely complied with, too often fail to live up to such commitments when they begin or take over operations in the United States."

The European companies named in the report include Deutsche Telekom, Deutsche Post World Net, Saint-Gobain, Sodexo, Tesco, Group 4 Securicor, Kongsberg Automotive, Gamma Holding, and Siemens. All of the companies endorse one or more of widely accepted international standards of labor relations, including those of the
International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Global Compact, the industrial relations guidelines of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the freedom of association norms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some of the violations compiled by Human Rights Watch include the hiring of permanent replacements by Gamma Holding to take the jobs of striking workers, the characterization by T-Mobile, a Deutsche Telekom subsidiary, of conversation about workers' rights as "dangerous activity" to be reported to management, and the firing by Sodexo of workers who tried to form a union.

"Even self-proclaimed 'progressive' companies can and do take full advantage of weak US laws to stifle freedom of association," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Companies need to be held accountable, to their own stated commitments and to strong legal standards."

Human Rights Watch recommended that European companies operating in the US commit to "international human rights standards on workers' freedom of association in the United States," and, in cases where US labor law falls short of international standards, comply with the higher standard.

Human Rights Watch also called on the US Senate to ratify ILO Conventions on workers' freedom of association, and on Congress to "adopt labor law reforms to bring the United States into full compliance with international human rights standards on workers' freedom of association."


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