Created in partnership with the Helpdesk on Business & Human Rights

Working Time

Nearly 480 million people work at least 55 hours a week leading to increased risks of workplace accidents, stroke and ischemic heart disease, regardless of the number of normal hours of sleep.

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Industry-specific Risk Factors

Multinational companies often come across excessive working hours in their supply chain, where they may not have direct control over production and timelines. This can occur in suppliers’ own operations or, for example, when suppliers contract out some of their work to home workers or smaller factories. Excessive working hours can, however, also occur within company operations — for example, driven by local norms, a culture of excessive working hours (e.g. in the security or services industries ) or by the remoteness of company operations (e.g. in oil and gas). In the maritime travel industry, COVID-19 related travel restrictions have also given rise to extended periods of time beyond working hours and work beyond the expirations of their contracts.

Challenges to ensuring decent working time exist across many industries. High risk sectors include agriculture and fishing, fashion and apparel, electronics manufacturing, financial services, and construction and infrastructure. In particular, the first three sectors pose significant challenges to global sourcing companies. To identify potential risk factors for other industries, companies can access the CSR Risk Check.

Agriculture and Fishing

The agriculture and fishing industries are inherently prone to long or excessive working hours due to the nature of the work undertaken. Industry-specific risk factors include:

  • Season-dependent: The seasonal nature of harvests, gestation of animals and migration of fish means that agricultural and fishery work is often concentrated around specific periods of time, resulting in long working hours during those times.
  • Piece-rate pay: Many workers will be paid based on the weight or quantity of the goods produced, which further encourages working longer hours to increase income.
  • Informal workers: A high proportion of informal workers and family/community workers (who do not have social protections or contracts) increases the risk of excessive working time. These risks are also often gendered, as women and girls are expected to support family farms before undertaking other tasks, while men and boys are more often able to prioritize other activities like school and socializing.
  • Time-related underemployment: This can often lead to people working numerous part-time jobs – these jobs add up and the workers face long working hours to make ends meet.
Helpful Resources
  • OECD-FAO, Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains: This guidance provides a common framework to help agro-businesses and investors support sustainable development, including improvements in working conditions.
  • FAO, Regulating Labour and Safety Standards in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Sectors: This resource provides information on international labour standards that apply in agriculture, including those on working time.
  • SOMO, Labour Conditions at Peruvian Fruit and Vegetable Producersreport on labour conditions in agriculture in Peru, highlighting forced overtime as one of the most common violations.
  • Fairtrade International, Guide for Smallholder Farmer Organisations – Implementing Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence (HREDD): This guidance was developed to provide advice and tools on HREDD for farmer organisations to implement.

Fashion and Apparel

The fashion and apparel industry is often linked to excessive working hours in supply chains, with employees working between 10 and 12 hours — and sometimes 16 to 18 hours — a day. Industry-specific risk factors include:

  • Demand fluctuations: Fluctuations in demand due to the varied output of clothing (winter, spring, autumn and summer), mostly at the beginning of each season, increase the risks of excessive working hours. Companies sourcing from fashion and apparel suppliers may often demand that the products are manufactured within a short time frame. In turn, suppliers are bound by contractual agreementsto honour any commitments made in this respect, but contractual loopholes are often misused by companies to cancel orders and avoid their due diligence obligations. Seasonal work requires that employees work intensively and for long hours in a short space of time to meet demand.
  • Forced overtime: Overtime is sometimes forced and often paid below legal requirements. Calculations of overtime payments are often compromised by a lack of social dialogue, poor general communication between workers and managers, and workers’ lack of knowledge about their legal rights to overtime payments.
  • Outsourcing: The industry uses a lot of outsourcing and home working, which makes it hard to trace where a product was made and by whom. Informal and home workers often lack labour protections and are vulnerable to excessive working hours.
  • Piece-rate pay: Piece-rate pay is pervasive in the garment manufacturing industry and is commonly found among factory-based workers and home-based workers. While research on the impact of piece-rate pay on working hours and overtime is scarce, the pressure for low-wage workers to reach target earnings drives the occurrence of excessive working hours.
Helpful Resources
  • ILO, Wages and Working Hours in the Textiles, Clothing, Leather and Footwear IndustriesThis report highlights barriers to decent working hours and has tips for businesses.
  • OECD, Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment & Footwear Sector: This guidance aims to help fashion and apparel businesses implement the due diligence recommendations contained in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to avoid and address the potential negative impacts of their activities and supply chains on a range of human rights, including excessive working hours.
  • Human Rights Watch, Paying for a Bus Ticket and Expecting to Fly: How Apparel Brand Purchasing Practices Drive Labor AbusesThis report outlines brands’ sourcing and purchasing practices and suggests that these can be a root cause for labour abuses in apparel factories, including excessive overtime.
  • Sedex, Apparel Manufacturing: Sedex Insights Report: This report considers the social, ethical and environmental risks that affect the apparel manufacturing industry, including those related to long working hours/overtime.

Electronics Manufacturing

Electronics manufacturing is also often linked to working time violations, particularly in supply chains. Research by Electronics Watch has found that in China, working weeks of 60-80 hours, including 20-40 hours of overtime, are common in electronics factories.

Industry-specific risk factors include:

  • Strict timelines: The problem of excessive working hours in electronics manufacturing is often driven by strict timelines imposed on manufacturers to meet consumer demand.
  • Competitive job market: Competition for jobs in the industry can be strong, particularly with respect to famous brands. This can lead to workers being prepared to work excessive hours without adequate rest.
  • Student workers: In China, student workers are given compulsory placements in electronics manufacturing factories, modelled as “internships”, where they may be forced to work excessive hours and often go unpaid or earn extremely low wages.
  • Forced overtime: Similar to the fashion and apparel industry, overtime is sometimes forced and often paid below legal requirements or industry standards.
Helpful Resources
  • ILO, Ups and Downs in the Electronics Industry: Fluctuating Production and the Use of Temporary and Other Forms of Employment: A report on the global electronics industry and the impacts of temporary employment on working time and work-life balance among other aspects.
  • Electronics Watch, Regional Risk Assessment Electronics Industry, China: A research report on the electronics industry in China highlighting violations of working time as one of many human rights violations in the industry.
  • GoodElectronics Network, Labour Conditions at Foreign Electronics Manufacturing Companies in Brazil: Case Studies of Samsung, LGE and Foxconn: report on labour conditions in the electronics industry in Brazil, highlighting ‘forced overtime’ as one of the most common violations.
  • Verité, Forced Labor in the Production of Electronic Goods in Malaysia: A Comprehensive Study of Scope and Characteristics: report on forced labour in the electronics industry in Malaysia, highlighting ‘forced overtime’ as one of the most common violations.