Read more

Statutory or voluntary social standards to secure employee rights


Social standards include both statutory regulations and all agreements between employee and employer organisations aimed at improving the situation of employees – in this context in the processing sector, for example. They range from collec-tively agreed wages and annual leave arrangements to laws on compulsory social insurance to regulations on safety precautions in the workplace. Technical implementation is monitored regularly by state or, in some cases, private inspection institutions.

Social standards are fundamental employee rights. They include ‘qualitative social standards’ such as the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO): eradication of slavery and child labour, freedom of association, the right to form trade unions, the right to equal pay for work of equal value by men and women, and the elimination of discrimination at work. The core labour standards are based on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and apply to all countries that have ratified it, regardless of their economic development status. In most countries, social standards are also enshrined in national law. Unlike national legislative systems, the ILO cannot impose sanctions for breaches of the social standards.

As the ILO is unable to impose sanctions, voluntary social standards, codes of conduct and quality standards play an important role in enforcing core labour standards across the world. The trading partners along the supply chain agree to apply specific social standards or codes of conduct that are not laid down in legislation. Their technical implementation, e.g. at the processing stage, is monitored regularly by private inspection institutions.

Audits are often performed to monitor compliance with social standards, including by major purchasers of agricultural products. To prevent inefficient multiple audits from being carried out and to enable training offered by buyers to be standardised, it is important to increase collaboration between the actors, standards systems, global trade and NGOs involved. The Global Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Social Compliance Programme covers 80% of the world’s consumer goods industry. It has set itself the task of harmonising the audit processes and the CD strategies of its member companies and establishing joint minimum criteria.


  • A properly functioning country-wide administration and monitoring system with access to the relevant information and sufficient technical and human capacities for its design, implementation and monitoring
  • Broad acceptance and recognition of the seal
  • Clear responsibilities in public authorities
  • Close cooperation and knowledge sharing with farmers' organisations
  • Jurisdiction or arbitration body with locally recognised authorities
  • Participation of all stakeholders involved, e. g. science / research, agricultural advisory services, civil society, public and private sector (incl. farmers and their interest groups)
  • Private sector initiative
  • Purchaser / Consumer demand
  • Regular neutral inspections on farms and in agri-food enterprises
  • Regular staff instruction
  • Sanction mechanisms

Possible Negative Effects

  • The rapid increase in standards systems, codes of conduct and audits, each with slightly different requirements, can place an immense burden on producers that can present an existential threat to small-scale farmers and processing companies in particular
  • Discriminates against smaller-scale farmers and processors
  • Social standards are not observed due to intensely competitive markets and pressure on prices, as well as, in some cases, traditional cultural practices
Verified by
Sign in
This page was last edited on 7 May 2023 | 7:22 (CEST)
  • Instruments
  • Policy Objectives