In a letter published by Today newspaper, TWC2 immediate past president John Gee proposed a means by which good labour standards can be propagated in Singapore. Companies should write labour standards into contracts with their subcontractors. Government-linked companies should lead the way, he says, among other suggestions.

Today, 31 May 2013, Voices section

Companies can lead by setting labour standards in contracts

by John Gee

I welcome Thomas Thomas’ comments (“Human rights matter more and more in business”, May 28) encouraging companies to be socially responsible and indicating some of the tools for them to do so.

I would suggest going a step further and encouraging companies to incorporate labour standards into their terms for partnership agreements with other companies or when they award contracts. Government-linked companies could lead the way in this.

A company would set minimum labour standards that anyone could see, on a company website, for example. The standards would include firm commitments not to source supplies from or have dealings with any entity that used forced labour, kept workers confined against their wills, housed them in unsanitary or unsafe conditions or took punitive action against workers who lodged complaints about their conditions, for example.

There might be terms about reliable payment of salaries, including overtime rates and safety standards. All of these should be an improvement on the legal minimum.

Anyone wanting to do business with that company would know the conditions attached; conscientious potential customers could reassure themselves that they were not buying products tainted by the abuse of fellow human beings.

The adoption of such minimum labour standards would help to promote good practices far beyond the companies that take them on board.

They would, in the Singapore context, create more equitable conditions for local companies that are already compliant with most of these terms to compete for contracts and customers with those that, at present, gain competitive advantages through unscrupulous and heavy exploitation of workers, especially migrants.

This would also be one effective contribution, at an international level, to countering labour trafficking, which is characterised by a range of violations of basic rights.