Universiteit Leiden

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Access to justice & labour rights: innovative paths for conflict resolution

vrijdag 10 november 2023
Radboud University Nijmegen, Faculty of Law, Grotuis Building
Montessorilaan 10
6525 HR Nijmegen


Access to justice for labour rights violations remains beyond reach for the majority of developing country workers in global supply chains. Credible reports continue to highlight a range of business-related abuses in supply chains, including unsafe working conditions, substandard wages and forced overtime, and lack of freedom of association. Workplace grievance procedures are inadequate or non-existent and access to labour or civil courts is often unavailable or ineffective. Conflicting interests among countries are slowing the development of a binding international treaty-based mechanism to coordinate effective recourse to victims of rights abuses across countries and global industries.

Ten years ago, in a tragic demonstration of the danger of marginalizing labour interests, the worst industrial accident on record left more than 1’100 workers dead and several thousand more injured in the Rana Plaza multi-factory building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The incapacity of the country’s legal and political institutions to offer equal treatment and fair compensation to the Rana Plaza victims spurred the launch of the Rana Plaza Arrangement, a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) that processed claims and delivered income benefits and medical care in line with the standards and expertise of the International Labour Organization.

The participation of the government of Bangladesh with local and global representatives of industry, unions and NGOs in the MSI led to the country’s first pilot program for employment injury benefits – for all export sector garment workers at present with the aim of extending coverage to workers in other economic sectors after 3-5 years. A closer look at the impact of this innovative initiative within the overall governance system in which it operated displays the potential – and risks – of using MSIs as steppingstones to legal and institutional reforms for resolution of labour rights abuses in the context of developing countries competing for global supply chain investment.

Presenter bio

Janelle M. Diller is Senior Research Associate with the Geneva Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies, and Independent Counsel with Appleton Luff International Lawyers (Switzerland). Her practice and research concentrate on labour and human rights compliance in international trade and investment and in global supply chains and multi-stakeholder relations to promote rights, mitigate risks, and remediate harm. She served as legal counsel for 20 years with the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency, where she helped expand the role of international labour rights in development, trade, investment, and business activity by negotiating ILO accords with the World Bank, OECD, other UN agencies, and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). She played a major role in designing, negotiating, and guiding the Rana Plaza Arrangement, a US$30 million Arrangement among global and local supply chain actors for remediation of 3600+ worker injuries and deaths from the Rana Plaza global supply chain accident in Bangladesh in 2013. She also made significant contributions to the drafting and application of international labour standards and ILO Declarations and guidelines. As Legal Director of a Washington-based human rights law group, she represented human rights victims in United Nations and Inter-American petitions, conducted fact-finding and reporting on gross human rights violations including forced labour in Myanmar (Burma), and advocated for the incorporation of international human rights into domestic legal systems by means of treaty ratification and judicial interpretation (US) and constitutional reforms in emerging democracies. Her human rights law analysis contributed to the UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and her fact-finding reports on refugee treatment informed UN negotiations for durable solutions involving Southeast Asian and Central American refugees. She has taught international law courses, including at the University of Bern, University of Windsor (Canada), and Georgetown University and the University of Virginia (US). She recently served as a Fulbright Research Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice at the University of Ottawa and a Max Planck Scholar at the Max Planck Institute of Comparative Public and International Law. She has published widely in contexts linking human rights and labour to international business, investment, trade and supply chains Her book on economic, social, and cultural rights, Securing Dignity and Freedom through Human Rights, received recognition as a UN Research Guide to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She is an Associate Editor of the Manchester Journal of International Economic Law.

About the seminar series

Institutions for Conflict Resolution / Conflictoplossende Instituties (COI) is a research collaboration between Utrecht University, Leiden University, and Radboud University Nijmegen. As part of its activities, the COI research group organises seminars throughout the year for researchers interested in current and innovative topics relating to institutions for conflict resolution. The seminars feature international speakers who present their work, followed by Q&A and discussion. Themes include the evolving role of judges in preventing and resolving conflicts, the role of alternative avenues and non-public actors, and how societal challenges such as climate change or digitalisation affect institutions for conflict resolution. Seminars are hosted on a rotating basis at each of the three universities, and are delivered in a hybrid format: online and in-person, on campus at the host institution.

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