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The debate over workplace codes of conduct has created tensions between trade unions and human rights NGOs. These tensions result from the inherent structural differences between interest-driven trade unions and ideals-driven human rights NGOs. The differences play themselves out in how these actors pursue social justice in a globalised economy. Human rights NGOs tend to see codes of conduct as a method to prevent violations, akin to their traditional work on legal reform and human rights monitoring. Trade unions assess codes for their potential to help empower workers, especially to help ensure freedom of association, which will lead to the realisation of participatory rights. In our understanding of human rights as a means of empowerment for vulnerable groups, we argue that the trade union perspective on human rights is a good long-term approach. Short-term successes, such as improving working conditions through outside patronage, seem useful only to the extent they serve this long-term goal.

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