Do Human Rights Matter in the Workplace?

How’s your day been so far? Nothing out of the ordinary? Got out of bed? Put on your clothes? Eaten breakfast? Dropped your kids at school? Had a meeting, made some points for and against a project?

Got down to business as usual? Not much to do with human rights – right? Wrong.

You’ve already exercised Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 16, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25 and 26 of the International Declaration of Human Rights.

Many businesses view human rights as a complex and intimidating international framework—something that doesn’t concern them. But whether we know it or not, we as businesses engage with human rights issues every day. In fact common HR concerns like working hours, annual and parental leave and health insurance all fall within the human rights framework. While these concerns may present in the form of contractual rights and responsibilities and company policies, they are also common human rights.

While not every human right is relevant to businesses, most businesses in Singapore will engage with issues of health and safety, discrimination and fair wages. Those businesses that engage suppliers will also deal with additional issues like forced labour, freedom of association and ensuring adequate water and sanitation.

Over the last three years we have been working with brands and their suppliers in the region to co-design a new approach to factory based training to ensure that workers are aware of their contractual rights and responsibilities. This is part of a larger movement amongst buyers to help their suppliers go beyond simple compliance and to build suppliers’ capacity to implement their responsibilities. This helps to build a more resilient supply chain.

Most recently, we have been working with garment factories in Cambodia to improve health and safety knowledge amongst workers. Our approach goes beyond simple classroom training and integrates a range of hands-on activities that are reinforced with competitions, communication materials, games and songs. By taking learning beyond the classroom, we have had great success in engaging both factory managers and employees in the process of co-learning.

In fact, factories have been surprised by just how enthusiastic everyone from workers and union representatives to HR managers have been about the campaign. One HR Manager said “We were very surprised by how well workers responded to this initiative as it is the first time we have done it. Our workers loved it and keep asking for more. It shows that employees want to learn and appreciate when we make the effort to educate them about their health and safety.”


If you want to learn more about our unique approach to worker rights education, come see us at the upcoming Global Compact Network Singapore event on Demystifying Human Rights Practices in Singapore or email melanie(at)

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