Standard 7

Labour and Working Conditions

SES Guidance Note

Additional Resources



The pursuit of inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all requires the protection of workers' fundamental rights, their fair treatment, and the provision of safe and healthy working conditions. Project activities seek to enhance employment promotion benefits, development outcomes and sustainability by ensuring sound worker-management relationships and cooperation in their design and implementation. The SES requirements have been guided by a number of international conventions and instruments, including those of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations (UN).1 ​​


Scope of Application

The applicability of this Standard is established during the social and environmental screening and categorization process. The requirements of this Standard are to be applied in an appropriately-scaled manner based on the nature and scale of the project, its specific activities, the project's associated social and environmental risks and impacts, and the type of contractual relationships with project workers. ​

The requirements regarding labour and working conditions apply to all project workers, including full-time, part-time, temporary, seasonal and migrant workers. Project workers are those workers who work on a project site or perform work related to the core functions2 of the project regardless of location, including those workers employed or engaged by third parties3 and the project's primary suppliers.4

The requirements of this Standard are to be addressed by the party or parties responsible for implementing the relevant project activities, including implementing partners, responsible parties, contractors and subcontractors (referred to as "applicable parties" herein).


  • To promote, respect and realize fundamental principles and rights at work5 through: 
    • Supporting freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
    • Preventing the use of child labour and forced labour
    • Preventing discrimination and promoting equal opportunity of workers.
  • To protect and promote the safety and health of workers.
  • To ensure applicable parties  comply with employment and labour laws, applicable rules and regulations and international commitments.
  • To leave no one behind by protecting and supporting workers in disadvantaged and vulnerable situations, including a special focus, as appropriate, on women workers, young workers, migrant workers and workers with disabilities.


Terms and conditions of employment: Written labour management procedures are established6 that set out the conditions in which project workers will be employed or engaged and managed, in accordance with the requirements herein and applicable labour laws, rules and regulations.7 8 The procedures are appropriate to the size, locations and workforce of project activities. ​

Project workers are provided information and documentation that is clear and understandable regarding their terms and conditions of employment, including information that sets out their rights under applicable labour laws, rules and regulations (including any applicable collective agreements), and their rights related to hours of work, wages, overtime, compensation and benefits, occupational safety and health and the requirements herein.9 This information and documentation is provided at the beginning of the working relationship and when any material changes to the terms or conditions of employment or engagement occur. ​

Project workers are paid on a regular basis as required by applicable labour laws, rules and regulations.10 Deductions from payment of wages are only made as allowed by human resources management policies and applicable labour laws, rules and regulations. Project workers are informed of the conditions under which such deductions will be made. Project workers are provided with adequate periods of rest per week, annual holiday and sick, maternity and family leave, as required by applicable labour laws, rules and regulations. ​​

Project workers receive written notice of termination of employment and details of severance payments in a timely manner as required by applicable labour laws, rules and regulations. All wages that have been earned, social security benefits, pension contributions and any other entitlements are paid, either directly to the project workers or, where appropriate, for the benefit of the project workers, with evidence of such payments.

​Non-discrimination and equal opportunity: Decisions relating to the employment or treatment of project workers are not made on the basis of personal characteristics unrelated to inherent job requirements.11 The employment of project workers is based on the principle of equality of opportunity and treatment, and there shall be no discrimination with respect to any aspects of the employment relationship, such as recruitment and hiring, compensation (including wages and benefits), working conditions and terms of employment, access to training, job assignment, promotion, termination of employment or retirement, or disciplinary practices. Women and men shall receive equal remuneration for work of equal value. The labour management procedures shall set out measures to prevent and address violence, harassment, intimidation and/or exploitation. Where applicable labour laws, rules and regulations are inconsistent with this paragraph, activities are carried out in a manner that is consistent with these requirements to the extent possible. ​

​Neither special measures of protection and assistance to remedy discrimination nor selection for a particular job based on the inherent requirements of the job are not deemed as discrimination.

​​Appropriate measures of protection and assistance are provided to address the vulnerabilities of project workers, including specific groups of workers, such as women, persons with disabilities, migrant workers and young workers. ​​

Appropriate measures will be taken to prevent and address any form of violence and harassment, bullying, intimidation and/or exploitation, including any form of gender-based violence (GBV). ​​

Workers organizations: In countries where national law recognizes workers' rights to form and to join workers' organizations of their choosing and to bargain collectively without interference, the applicable parties subject to national law who have engaged project workers must comply. In such circumstances, the role of legally established workers' organizations and legitimate workers' representatives is respected and they will be provided with information needed for meaningful negotiation in a timely manner. Where national law restricts workers' organizations, the applicable parties subject to national law shall not restrict project workers from developing alternative mechanisms to express their grievances and protect their rights regarding working conditions and terms of employment and shall not seek to influence or control these alternative mechanisms. The applicable parties shall not discriminate or retaliate against project workers who participate, or seek to participate, in such workers' organizations and collective bargaining or alternative mechanisms. ​​

Forced labour: Forced labour, which consists of any work or service not voluntarily12 performed that is exacted from an individual under threat of force or penalty, shall not be used in connection with the project.13 This prohibition covers any kind of involuntary or compulsory labour, such as indentured labour, bonded labour, or similar labour-contracting arrangements. No trafficked persons may be employed in connection with the project activities.14

Where cases of forced labour are identified, immediate steps must be taken by the applicable parties to correct and remedy them. ​

Child labour: Child labour, which consists of employment of children below the minimum age of employment as defined by the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182), may not be used in connection with or arising from the project activities. ​​

A minimum age for employment shall be specified in connection with the project activities, as determined by national law for applicable parties subject to national law and consistent with the ILO Convention No. 138.15 ​​

Notwithstanding paragraph 16 above, a child under the age of 18 may not perform work in connection with or arising from the project activities which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm his/her health, safety or morals. Such work is determined by national laws or regulations or by the competent authority and commonly specified in national lists of hazardous work prohibited to children. In the absence of such regulations, guidance on hazardous work to be prohibited in connection with the project should derive from the relevant ILO instruments.16 In addition, a child under the age of 18 may not, in connection with project activities, perform work that is likely to interfere with his/her compulsory education or be harmful to his/her physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. ​

Where cases of child labour are identified, immediate steps shall be taken by applicable parties to correct and remedy them, including the rehabilitation and social integration of the child where necessary.

Occupational safety and health (OSH): Necessary processes and measures that address the safety and health of project workers shall be in place to support project design, planning and implementation. These processes and measures may be encompassed and implemented through the applicable party's occupational safety and health management system17 or processes and shall address:​

  • Identification and assessment of potential hazards and risks, particularly those that could result in serious injury, ill health or death and those identified through worker health surveillance;
  • Elimination of hazards and minimization of risks through implementation of preventive and protective measures in the following order of priority: elimination or substitution, engineering and organizational controls, administrative controls, and where residual hazards and risks cannot be controlled through these collective measures, provision of personal protective equipment at no cost to the worker;
  • Safety and health training, including on the proper use and maintenance of personal protective equipment, at no cost to workers conducted by competent persons and the maintenance of training records;
  • Recording and notification of occupational accidents and incidents and any resulting injuries, ill health or death;
  • Emergency prevention and preparedness and response arrangements to emergency situations; and
  • Employment injury benefits and/or remedies for adverse impacts such as occupational injuries, disability, ill health or disease and death.18

All applicable parties who employ or engage project workers shall put in place the above safety and health processes and measures to prevent and protect workers from chemical, physical, biological and psychosocial hazards and to establish and maintain safe and healthy workplaces including the work environment, organization, processes, tools machinery and equipment.19 Such parties actively consult and collaborate with project workers and promote their understanding and participation in the implementation of safety and health measures, as well as provide them information, training and personal protective equipment. Mechanisms are used for consultation and participation of project workers, such as worker safety representatives or joint worker-management safety and health committees. ​

​Workplace mechanisms are made available for project workers to report work situations that they believe are not safe or healthy and to remove themselves from a work situation they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health. project workers who remove themselves from such situations are not required to return to work until necessary remedial action to correct the situation has been taken, and are not retaliated against or otherwise subject to reprisal or negative action. ​​

Project workers are provided with safe and healthy facilities appropriate to the circumstances of their work, including access to canteens, hygiene facilities, and appropriate areas for rest where appropriate on the basis of the work performed. Where accommodation services are provided to project workers, policies are put in place and implemented on the management and quality of accommodation to protect and promote the health, safety, and well-being of the project workers, and to provide access to or provision of services that accommodate their physical, social and cultural needs. ​

Where more than one party are employing or engaging workers and such workers are working together in one location, the parties who employ or engage the workers shall collaborate in applying the OSH measures, without prejudice to the responsibility of each applicable party for the safety and health of its own workers. The design and implementation of OSH measures shall be reviewed and necessary action taken in the event of significant changes in the working conditions or workers.

​A process for conducting accident investigations and regular evaluation of preventive and protective measures and OSH performance shall be put in place and necessary corrective actions adopted based on the results of such investigations and evaluations.​ ​​

Workplace grievance mechanism: A workplace grievance mechanism (distinct from any general project-level grievance mechanism) is provided for all project workers (and, where relevant, their organizations) to raise workplace concerns (including potential violations of existing rights and entitlements as provided for in legislation, collective agreements, employment contracts and human resources policies). The mechanism will be easily accessible to project workers who are to be informed of the grievance mechanism at the time of recruitment and the measures to protect them against any reprisal for its use. ​​

The grievance mechanism shall be designed to address workers' concerns promptly, using an understandable, transparent process that provides timely feedback to those concerned in a language they understand, without any retribution, and shall operate in an independent and objective manner. The grievance mechanism may utilize existing grievance mechanisms, providing that they meet the above criteria. Existing grievance mechanisms may be supplemented as needed with project-specific arrangements. ​​

The grievance mechanism shall not impede access to other judicial or administrative remedies that might be available under applicable laws, regulations or rules or through existing arbitration procedures, or substitute for grievance mechanisms provided through collective agreements, if applicable. The mechanism ensures workers' rights to be present and to participate directly in the proceedings and to be represented by a trade union, if applicable, or person of their choosing. ​

Contractor/Third Party Workers: Due diligence is conducted to ascertain that third parties who engage project workers are legitimate and reliable entities and have in place appropriate policies, processes and systems that allow them to operate in accordance with the minimum requirements herein.​ ​​

Procedures are established for managing and monitoring the performance of such third parties in relation to the minimum requirements herein, including incorporation of the minimum requirements into contractual agreements with such third parties, together with appropriate noncompliance remedies. In the case of subcontracting, third parties are required to include equivalent requirements and remedies in their contractual agreements with subcontractors. ​​

Contractor workers shall have access to a grievance mechanism. Where the third party employing or engaging the workers is not able to provide an easily accessible grievance mechanism, the grievance mechanism provided to direct project workers shall be made available. ​​

Primary Supplier Workers: Potential risks of violations of primary supplier workers' fundamental rights20 and safety and health issues which may arise in relation to primary suppliers (at a minimum) are to be identified. Roles and responsibilities for monitoring primary suppliers are established. If child labour or forced labour cases or breaches of other fundamental rights are identified, the applicable party will require the primary supplier to take appropriate steps to remedy them.

​​Additionally, where primary supplier workers are exposed to hazards that present a risk of serious injury, ill health or death, the relevant primary supplier is required to have procedures in place to address such safety and health issues. Such procedures and mitigation measures shall be reviewed periodically to ascertain their effectiveness. ​​

The ability to address these risks shall depend upon the applicable party's level of control or influence over its primary suppliers. Where prevention and remedy are not possible, shift the project's primary suppliers to suppliers that can demonstrate that they are meeting the relevant requirements herein. Where there is imminent danger of serious injury, ill health or death to workers, the applicable party shall exercise its control or influence to stop the operation concerned until such time as the primary supplier can demonstrate that it can control the hazard in a manner consistent with the minimum requirements herein.


Footnotes: ​

(1) These conventions (see link) include among others: ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize; ILO Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining; ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour and Protocol of 2014; ILO Convention 105 on the Abolition of Forced Labour; ILO Convention 138 on Minimum Age (of Employment); ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour; ILO Convention 100 on Equal Remuneration; ILO Convention 111 on Discrimination (Employment and Occupation); ILO Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health; ILO Convention 161 on Occupational Health Services; UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 32.1UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

(2) “Core functions” of a project constitute those production and/or service processes essential for a specific activity without which the project cannot continue.

(3) “Third parties” may include contractors, subcontractors, brokers, agents or intermediaries.

(4) “Primary suppliers” are those suppliers who, on an ongoing basis, provide directly to the Project goods or materials essential for the core functions of the Project.

(5) ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998).

(6) Labour management procedures include relevant human resources policies and policies and procedures for the engagement of contractors.

(7) The requirements, whether herein or in national law, that are the most protective of workers shall apply unless the application of requirements herein would violate national law.

(8) For project workers who are employed or engaged by the United Nations and its specialized agencies, conditions of employment are governed by the respective entity’s internal rules, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, 1946.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Such as gender, sex, race, colour, nationality, national extraction, political opinion, affiliation or non-affiliation to a union, ethnic, social or indigenous origin, religion of belief, marital or family status, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity.

(12) Work is on a voluntary basis when it is done with the free and informed consent of a worker. Such consent must exist throughout the employment relationship and the worker must have the possibility to revoke freely given consent. In particular, there can be no “voluntary offer” under threat or other circumstances of restriction or deceit. To assess the authenticity of a free and informed consent, it is necessary to ensure that no external constraint or indirect coercion has been carried out, either by an act of the authorities or by an employer’s practice.

(13) See the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29), as well as the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention.

(14) Trafficking in persons is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purposes of exploitation. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking practices.

(15) To be consistent with the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), the applicable minimum age will not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in principle, not less than 15 years.

(16) See ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999 (No. 190). Examples of hazardous work activities prohibited for children include work: (a) with exposure to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; (b) underground, underwater, working at heights or in confined spaces; (c) with dangerous machinery, equipment or tools, or involving handling or transport of heavy loads; (d) in unhealthy environments exposing children to hazardous substances, agents, or processes, or to temperatures, noise or vibration damaging to health; or (e) under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours, during the night or in unreasonable confinement on the premises of the employer.

(17) ILO Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management systems, 2001. See also United Nations Common System Occupational Safety and Health Framework, Chief Executives Board, 31 March 2015.

(18) These would include for example necessary insurance arrangements that ensure access to health benefits and replacement of loss of earnings in case of a work-related injury, namely in case of death or an illness due to work.

(19) See also ILO Conventions 167, 184, and 176 on OSH in Construction, Agriculture and Mining.

(20) Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; the abolition of child and forced labour and non-discrimination and equal opportunity.