Perspectives on the World of Work

  • Labour Amplified

5 reasons why you need to pay attention to social aspects when conducting your business:

With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, it would be very easy to get swallowed up in the thinking that industrialisation will lead to mechanisation and fewer workers. The truth is far more complex than that. Though it is quite clear, especially in the agricultural sector, that certain kinds of menial labour will be replaced by machines as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, blanket mechanisation in a country with a catastrophic unemployment rate such as ours can never be a viable option. The social instability South Africans experience can be traced to economic vulnerability and income inequality and a concerted push by employers, workers and other role-players will be needed to address these problems. Over and above those points, there are specific reasons why social partners should focus on the social aspects around a business.

Social dialogue remains the only viable way to solve challenges in labour relations, and South Africa has a well-established tripartite-plus structure which includes the traditional employer, worker and government parties, as well as organisations representing the broader community. Organisation remains key, and participation is the only way to effect real change within established structures.

1. Everlasting peace is built on social justice:

The International Labour Organisation was founded on the principle of social justice as the foundation of lasting peace, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The universal understanding was, and still is that justice among people is the only way that peace can ever be achieved. This paves the way for meaningful social dialogue amongst role-players in the world of work, in other words challenges are ventilated by discussion and challenges are overcome by the parties designing solutions as a team, while retaining their own identity as representatives of a specific constituency.

If workers and employers retain sight of their end-goal, which is a thriving business that benefits both parties, it becomes easier to solve the inevitable problems that arise in a workplace. If this relationship is adversarial, however, it becomes very difficult to find common ground and agreement. The future of collective bargaining will have to be much more solutions driven and designed around mutual benefit for the parties who are negotiating.

Union organisation models need updating. Unions will need to evolve or face complete decline. This means organising in new, and innovative ways in order to broaden their scope beyond the traditional scope. The best way to do this is to observe international trade union confederations and the innovative ways they have of organising value chains. Remaining outside organising structures will leave workers vulnerable and employers frustrated.

2. South Africa’s legislative system is based on social dialogue.

In South Africa, laws and policy that have a labour, development or economic impact, need to be negotiated at NEDLAC, which houses a tripartite-plus structure. This is by no means an easy process, but it is vital that role-players in the policy space are engaged from the get-go to ensure legitimacy in law-making.

Given this background it shows how important it is to understand that social aspects and social dialogue are not simply add-ons. They are the lifeblood of our country’s democracy and the only way to ensure legitimate decision-making.

3. Consumers are becoming more conscious, and it drives buying behaviour

According to a 2018 Nielsen survey, consumers are becoming much more conscious in their buying behaviour, and this translates to the fact that 81% of respondents, not delineated by gender or generation, share a passion for corporate social responsibility. International trade union confederations like IndustriALL are reacting to this switch by moving towards organising entire value chains. Through their Global Framework Agreements the union confederation places the responsibility on retailers to ensure fair labour practices in their value chains. In South Africa, export producers face a similar situation in terms of the UK Modern Slavery Act, which places the onus on retailers to eradicate modern slavery in their value chains, including South African farms who export to those retailers.

Never has the small size of the world been more apparent, and it is crucial for producers to understand the importance and scrutiny that will increasingly be placed on the corporate social aspects of farms and businesses. It is important to lead in this aspect, and not wait for

4. Workers are part of a larger community. Business is too.

A farm or any business cannot be divorced from the community it finds itself in. A benefit of having deep roots and involvement in a community, is the fact that the community will derive economic benefit from a business, thereby increasing the customer base of the business. In the South African context, community involvement may increase the safety around a business. It is important to remember that local community involvement is a key to business success.

5. Sustainable development makes business sense.

According to the Business Commission, businesses who actively sought to act on climate matters, enjoyed an 18% higher return on investment than businesses who did not. It is also important to note that climate influences 13 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The bottom line is to note that sustainable development needs to become a core business focus instead of occasional corporate social responsibility projects. Interventions need to be long-term in nature.

Corporate social aspects and responsibility can be daunting. However, as the Business Commission has found: “This is a time, like no other in history, when business needs to show the courage to adopt strategies that create long-term value for their companies and for the societies they serve. This is the time to create a brighter future for all.”

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