In this post

The Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code

The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code is a globally recognized set of guidelines that establishes minimum standards for working conditions and labour practices in supply chains. Developed by the ETI, a leading alliance of companies, trade unions, and NGOs, the Base Code is founded on the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and is widely adopted by businesses committed to ethical trade.

What are the ETI base code core principles?

The ETI base code covers nine core principles which we summarised here.

1. Employment is freely chosen

Employers must not force workers into employment. Workers should have the freedom to leave their job after giving reasonable notice. Employers must not require workers to surrender identification documents or deposits.

2. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are respected

Workers have the right to join or form trade unions and to bargain collectively. Employers should have an open attitude towards union activities and not discriminate against worker representatives. Where laws restrict these rights, employers should facilitate alternative means for independent association and bargaining.

3. Working conditions are safe and hygienic

Employers must provide a safe and healthy work environment and take steps to prevent accidents and injuries. They should give workers regular health and safety training. Employers must provide clean toilet facilities, potable water, and sanitary food storage areas. When offering accommodation, it should meet workers’ basic needs.

4. Child labour shall not be used

Companies must not recruit child labour. They should contribute to programmes that help any working children transition into quality education. Employers must not allow young people under 18 to work at night or in hazardous conditions.

5. Living wages are paid

Employers should pay wages that meet or exceed national legal standards or industry benchmarks, whichever is higher. Wages should cover basic needs and provide some discretionary income. Employers must give workers clear, written information about their wages and employment conditions.

6. Working hours are not excessive

Employers must comply with national laws on working hours. They should not require more than 48 hours of work per week, excluding overtime. Employers should make overtime voluntary, use it responsibly, and compensate it at a premium rate. They should not exceed 60 total working hours per week except in exceptional circumstances.

7. No discrimination is practiced

Employers must not discriminate in hiring, compensation, training, promotion, termination, or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, age, disability, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, union membership, or political affiliation.

8. Regular employment is provided

Employers should base work on a recognised employment relationship established through national law and practice. They must not avoid obligations to employees through labour-only contracting, excessive use of fixed-term contracts, or other arrangements.

9. No harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed

Employers must prevent physical abuse, threats of physical abuse, sexual or other harassment, verbal abuse, and other forms of intimidation.

The ETI base code can help improve the lives of vulnerable workers

The ETI Base Code is implemented by companies across various sectors, including garment and textiles, food and agriculture, electronics, and many others. Its principles are applied in supply chains spanning numerous countries, particularly in regions where labour rights and working conditions are a pressing concern, such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

One of the key impacts of the ETI Base Code is its ability to drive positive change in global supply chains. By setting clear expectations for suppliers and providing a framework for ethical trade, the Base Code encourages companies to take responsibility for the welfare of workers in their supply chains. This, in turn, can lead to improved working conditions, better wages, and enhanced protections for workers’ rights.

The ETI Base Code’s emphasis on freely chosen employment and the prohibition of forced labour helps combat modern slavery and human trafficking. Its provisions on freedom of association and collective bargaining empower workers to advocate for their rights and participate in decision-making processes that affect their working lives.

The Base Code’s focus on safe and hygienic working conditions is crucial in preventing workplace accidents, injuries, and health hazards. By requiring companies to provide regular health and safety training and assign responsibility for these issues to senior management, the Code promotes a culture of safety and well-being in the workplace.

The prohibition of child labour under the ETI Base Code is another critical aspect of its impact. By requiring companies to contribute to policies and programs that enable children to attend and remain in quality education, the Code helps break the cycle of child labour and promotes children’s rights to education and development.

The ETI Base Code’s provisions on living wages and reasonable working hours aim to ensure that workers can maintain a decent standard of living and have adequate time for rest, family, and personal pursuits. The Code’s non-discrimination clause helps promote equal opportunities and fair treatment for all workers, regardless of their personal characteristics.

Furthermore, the Base Code’s emphasis on regular employment and the avoidance of precarious labour arrangements helps foster job security and stability for workers. Its prohibition of harsh or inhumane treatment, including physical abuse, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse, helps create a work environment free from violence and intimidation.

The impact of the ETI Base Code extends beyond individual companies and their supply chains. By setting industry-wide standards and promoting collaboration among businesses, trade unions, and NGOs, the ETI Base Code contributes to the development of more ethical and sustainable trade practices on a global scale.

However, implementing the ETI Base Code is not without challenges. Ensuring compliance across complex global supply chains requires ongoing commitment, resources, and collaboration from all stakeholders involved. Regular monitoring, auditing, and remediation efforts are necessary to identify and address non-compliances and drive continuous improvement.

Despite these challenges, the ETI Base Code remains a powerful tool for businesses striving to uphold ethical trade practices and promote fair labour standards worldwide. As more companies adopt the Base Code and integrate its principles into their operations, the potential for positive change in global supply chains continues to grow.


The ETI Base Code plays a vital role in promoting fair labour practices and protecting workers’ rights in global supply chains. By setting clear standards and encouraging collaboration among stakeholders, the Base Code contributes to the development of more ethical and sustainable trade practices worldwide. As businesses continue to adopt and implement the ETI Base Code, its impact on improving working conditions and promoting workers’ rights will only continue to grow.

Like this blog post?

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn

Championing responsible business in Africa