News in brief

Global corporate social responsibility standard

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has launched a project to create a global standard for corporate social responsibility, giving the Brazilian and Swedish governments the task of piloting the guidelines. Detailed proposals will be shortly issued by ISO, launching three months of debate, before preliminary decisions on their scope and content can be made. Representatives from industry, governments, workers organisations, consumer groups and non-governmental organisations will then be assembled to carry out more detailed work and consultations will be staged before the final standard is drawn up. ISO said this would promote progress in “human rights, labour conditions, the environment and (fighting) corruption”. Involving Brazil’s national standards organisation was part of an ISO policy aimed at making its standards as relevant as possible for developing countries.

Wal-Mart threatens to close unionised stores in Canada

Employees at the only unionised Wal-Mart supermarket in North America have been told that a union membership drive is hindering sales. If managers and union officials are unable to reach an agreement allowing the store to be efficient and profitable, warned a company release, “it’s possible that the store will close”. The outlet in Jonquire, 500km north of Montreal, employs about 170 people and has been unionised since August. Wal-Mart Canada has expressed its impatience waiting for the United Food and Commercial Workers to begin contract talks. Wal-Mart said the store might close unless workers propose a contract soon, because delays are hurting business and company morale. The company said that a fractured environment made it “difficult to operate”. The company repeated its message in other stores with active union drives. The union said a proposal would be submitted by mid-November. Wal-Mart employs more than 65,000 Canadians nationwide.

US working women still tied to the kitchen sink

Working women in the US spend twice as much time doing household chores and caring for children as working men do, according to research. A US Department of Labor study – focusing on how Americans spent their time outside work – showed that while the average working man spends less than 50 minutes each full-time working day caring for family members, while working women put in 90 minutes and an additional one hour and 20 minutes doing housework. The average full-time working woman gets one hour’s less sleep each night compared to stay-at-home mums. Fathers spend more time than mothers at their jobs, however, working around an hour more; but they also spend more time on leisure and sports activities. The survey found that American adults have less than five hours of leisure time a day and spend half of that watching television.

Smoke-free zone spreads as Canada clears the air

Canada has taken further steps towards a total ban on smoking in the workplace. Last month, the entire provinces of New Brunswick and Manitoba went smoke-free, with the province of Saskatchewan expected to follow on 1 January 2005. The territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories banned smoking from 1 May this year. Many Canadian cities in other provinces have also enacted smoke-free workplace laws. “Smoke-free workplace legislation is a matter of respect and dignity for workers,” said Joe Cherner, founder of the lobby group Bar and Restaurant Employees Advocating Together for a Healthy Environment. “All workers deserve a safe, healthy, smoke-free work environment,” he said. Health minister Jim Rondeau said enforcement officers will instead focus on specific complaints.

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