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The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and it entered into force on 23 March 1976. The ICCPR is one of the key international human rights treaties aimed at protecting civil and political rights. It is one of the two treaties that give legal force to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the other being the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ICESCR). The ICESCR, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the ICCPR along with its two Optional Protocols, are collectively known as the International Bill of Rights.

India ratified the ICCPR in 1979. Countries that have ratified the ICCPR have an obligation to protect and preserve basic human rights of every individual. It contains several clauses focussing on the rights of workers, such as, the anti-discrimination principle, the principle of equality, and the fundamental freedoms.

The following Articles of the ICCPR have special significance from the perspective of business and human rights:

Article 6 recognizes and protects the right to life of all human beings. It is a right that is protected by law and no person shall be arbitrarily deprived of their life. It is the supreme right, which cannot be suppressed in any form. It also constitutes a fundamental right that enables and forms the basis for realizing all other human rights. Article 6 is especially relevant for workers employed in hazardous industry where incidences of unnatural and premature deaths are a common occurrence.

Article 7 states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation. This Article is relevant in cases where business enterprises, especially in global supply chains, employ workers who are forced to operate in extreme conditions, and face cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of their employers. This Article can be invoked to protect workers against such exploitation and abuse.

Article 8 prohibits all forms of slavery, child labour, forced labour or compulsory labour.

1. No one shall be held in slavery; slavery and the slave-trade in all their forms shall be prohibited.

2. No one shall be held in servitude.

3. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Article 11 clarifies the duty of business enterprises to not to punish the worker for non-fulfilment of prescribed work on allotted time as mentioned in the contractual agreement between the employer and the employee. which states that

No one shall be imprisoned merely on the ground of inability to fulfil a contractual obligation.

Article 21 recognizes the right to peaceful assembly. It provides right to workers and employees to assemble and hold discussions on work-related matters, including protecting their own interests.

1.The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society.

Article 22 places prominence over the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of the workers’ rights that arises from employment. It is one of the most important international labour standards as trade unions have a legitimate right and role to play in representing the opinions and issues of workers to the appropriate authority as per the laws. This Article of the ICCPR should be read in conjunction with the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98.

(1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

(2). No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society.

(3). Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.

The full text of the ICCPR and its Articles can be accessed here: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx

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International Instruments

Conventions, covenants and treaties of the UN and other multi-lateral agencies that are relevant for Business and Human Rights-related issues in India.

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