Created in partnership with the Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights

Contextual Risk Factors

Several factors can lead to long or excessive working hours in business operations and supply chains, including:

  • Inadequate legal framework offering a poor standard of protections against excessive working hours. In some countries, labour laws do not limit the number of working hours, though they may advocate ‘standard’ working hours. Therefore, workers are not protected from working more than 48 hours per week as per the maximum defined by the ILO. Although a country may stipulate a standard working week, overtime can be unlimited, leaving workers vulnerable to working excessively long hours without legal protection.
  • Poor enforcement of domestic labour laws, including on working hours, due to inadequate training, an under-resourced labour inspectorate or high levels of corruption.
  • Cultural acceptance of long working hours in certain industries (e.g. in investment banking) or countries (e.g. Japan) can lead to employees working excessive hours to advance in their careers, often at the expense of a work-life balance or their health and wellbeing. Efforts to shift such cultural acceptances in Japan have intensified over the last two years. Many companies are introducing a four-day working work to try to improve work-life balance and reduce overall working hours.
  • Low levels of collective bargaining in specific sectors can increase the risk of long or excessive working hours. Collective bargaining agreements regulate terms and conditions of employment, including guarantees on wages and working hours. In the absence of such agreements, workers may be at risk of working excessive hours, or not receive overtime rates for extra hours worked.
  • ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are legal in many countries, where a worker signs a contract of employment with an employer without the guarantee of regular hours of work. This can result in workers needing to work excessive hours in short periods of time when work is available or going weeks without regular hours and thus suffering from low/no income.
  • Low wages can lead to longer working hours as workers have to clock more hours to make an adequate wage for themselves or their families. Increased wages or a living wage can help reduce the need for extra hours. Migrant workers in low wage occupations, in particular, are at risk of working excessive hours.
  • A large informal workforce can lead to excessive working hours as undocumented or informal workers are unlikely to have contracts or labour protections and are unable to complain if there is a problem. That being said, time-related underemployment is also common in the informal workforce – this is often due to women informally contributing to their family’s income.
  • Seasonal or irregular work can lead to periods of excessive or long working hours, driven by the need for companies to produce as much as possible in short deadlines. Examples include harvest seasons for agricultural workers or holiday periods for hospitality workers.
  • Cost pressure in internationally operating companies, which is passed on to suppliers, tight lead times and late approval (or continuous alteration) of product specification can lead to excessive overtime in supplier factories.
  • Inefficient processes and poor human resource management at supplier factories can further exacerbate the problems with the buying practices of purchasing companies and lead to reduced productivity and ultimately excessive overtime.
  • Cost of living spikes amid rising inflation have affected the work-life balance of many workers as inadequate pay increases mean workers are unable to afford basic necessities. Workers in the gig economy are taking on multiple jobs, or starting small businesses to make ends meet – these factors are contributing to a poor work-life balance.
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