Characterisation of social impacts in LCA

Part 1: Development of indicators for labour rights
  • Louise Camilla Dreyer
  • Michael Z. Hauschild
  • Jens Schierbeck


Background, aim, and scope

The authors have suggested earlier a framework for life cycle impact assessment to form the modelling basis of social LCA. In this framework, the fundamental labour rights were pointed out as obligatory issues to be addressed, and protection and promotion of human dignity and well-being as the ultimate goal and area of protection of social LCA. The intended main application of this framework for social LCA was to support management decisions in companies who wish to conduct business in a socially responsible manner, by providing information about the potential social impacts on people caused by the activities in the life cycle of a product. Environmental LCA normally uses quantitative and comparable indicators to provide a simple representation of the environmental impacts from the product lifecycle. This poses a challenge to the social LCA framework because due to their complexity, many social impacts are difficult to capture in a meaningful way using traditional quantitative single-criterion indicators. A salient example is the violation of fundamental labour rights (child labour, discrimination, freedom of association, and right to organise and collective bargaining, forced labour). Furthermore, actual violations of these rights somewhere in the product chain are very difficult to substantiate and hence difficult to measure directly.

Materials and methods

Based on a scorecard, a multi-criteria indicator model has been developed for assessment of a number of social impact categories. The multi-criteria indicator assesses the effort (will and ability) of a company to manage the individual issues, and it calculates a score reflecting the company’s performance in a form which allows aggregation over the life cycle of the product. The multi-criteria indicator model is presented with labour rights as an example, but the underlying principles make it suitable for modelling of other social issues with similar complexity and susceptibility to a management approach.


The outcome of the scorecard is translated for each impact category through a number of steps into a company performance score, which is translated into a risk of social impacts actually occurring. This translation of the scorecard results into a company risk score that constitutes the characterisation of the developed social LCA methodology. The translation from performance score to risk involves assessment of the context of the company in terms of geographical location and industry and of the typical level of social impacts that these entail, and interpretation of the company’s management effort in the light of this context.


The developed indicators in social LCA are discussed in terms of their ability to reflect impacts within the four obligatory impact categories representing the labour rights according to the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) covering forced labour, discrimination, restrictions of freedom of association and collective bargaining, and child labour. Also their feasibility and the availability of the required data are discussed.


It is concluded that it is feasible to develop indicators and characterisation methods addressing impacts related to the four obligatory impact categories representing the labour rights. The developed indicators are judged to be both feasible and relevant, but this remains to be further investigated in a separate paper in which they are implemented and tested in six separate industrial case studies.

Recommendations and perspectives

The suitability of multi-criteria assessment methods to cover other social impacts than the obligatory ILO-based impacts is discussed, and it is argued that the combination of indirect indicators measuring a risk of impacts and direct indicators giving a direct measure of the impacts requires an explicit weighting before interpretation and possible aggregation.


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) Human rights International labour organisation (ILO) Labour rights Multi-criteria indicator Site specificity Social LCIA 

Supplementary material

11367_2009_148_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (70 kb)
ESM1(PDF 72 kb)
11367_2009_148_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (563 kb)
ESM2(PDF 564 kb)


  1. Barthel L, Wolf MA, Eyerer P (2005) Methodology of life cycle sustainability for sustainability assessments. 11th Annual International Sustainable Development Research Conference (AISDRC), 6–8 June 2005, Helsinki, FinlandGoogle Scholar
  2. Dreyer LC (2009) Inclusion of social aspects in life cycle assessment of products—development of a methodology for social life cycle assessment. Industrial PhD Thesis. Technical University of Denmark, Kgs. Lyngby, 2009Google Scholar
  3. Dreyer LC, Hauschild MZ (2005) Scoping must be done in accordance with the goal definition, also in Social LCA. Int J LCA 11 (2)Google Scholar
  4. Dreyer L, Hauschild MZ, Schierbeck J (2005) A framework for social life cycle impact assessment. Int J LCA 11(2):88–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Goedkoop M, Spriensma R (2000) The Eco-indicator 99—a damage oriented method for life cycle impact assessment. Methodology report. Second edition 17 April 2000. PRé Consultants B.V., Amersfoort, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  6. Griesshammer R, Benoît C, Dreyer LC, Flysjö A, Manhart A, Mazijn B, Méthot A, Weidema BP (2006) Feasibility study: integration of social aspects into LCA. Discussion paper from UNEP-SETAC Task Force Integration of Social Aspects in LCA meetings in Bologna (January 2005), Lille (May 2005) and Brussels (November 2005). Freiburg, Germany, 2006Google Scholar
  7. Hauschild MZ Wenzel H (1998) Environmental assessment of products. Vol. 2 - Scientific background, 565 pp. Chapman & Hall, United Kingdom, 1998, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Hingham, MA. USAGoogle Scholar
  8. Hofstetter P (1998) Perspectives in life cycle impact assessment; a structured approach to combine models of the technosphere, ecosphere and valuesphere. Kluwer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  9. ILO (1919) Hours of Work (Industry) Convention No.1. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. November 28, 1919Google Scholar
  10. ILO (1930) Forced Labour Convention No. 29. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. June 28, 1930Google Scholar
  11. ILO (1948) Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No.87. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. July 9, 1948Google Scholar
  12. ILO (1949) Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention No.98. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. July 1, 1949Google Scholar
  13. ILO (1951) Equal Remuneration Convention, No. 100. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. June 29, 1951Google Scholar
  14. ILO (1957) Abolition of Forced Labour Convention No. 105. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. June 25, 1957Google Scholar
  15. ILO (1958) Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, No.111. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. June 25, 1958Google Scholar
  16. ILO (1973) Minimum Age Convention No. 138. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. June 26, 1973Google Scholar
  17. ILO (1999) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, No. 182. Adopted and proclaimed by the General Conference of the International Labour Organisation. June 17, 1999Google Scholar
  18. ISO (1997) Environmental management—life cycle assessment—principles and guidelines. ISO 14040. International Organization for Standardisation (ISO), GenevaGoogle Scholar
  19. Jørgensen A, Le Boqc A, Nazakina L, Hauschild M (2008) Methodologies for social life cycle assessment. Int J LCA 13(2):96–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Manhart A, Griesshammer R (2006) Social impacts of the production of notebook PCs—contribution to the development of a Product Sustainability Assessment (PROSA). Öko-Institut e.V.Freiburg, Germany, p 1006Google Scholar
  21. Mazijn (2004) Minutes of workshop on the integration of social criteria into LCA: analysis of existing methodologies, Ghent, Belgium, 15–16 November 2004, Chairman Bernard MazijnGoogle Scholar
  22. Mazijn (2005) Minutes of the UNEP-SETAC life cycle initiative, taskforce ‘Integration of social aspects into LCA’, Brussels, Belgium 10–11 November 2005, Chairman Bernard MazijnGoogle Scholar
  23. Murray CJL, Lopez AD (1996) The global burden of disease. WHO, World Bank and Harvard School of Public Health, BostonGoogle Scholar
  24. Potting J, Hauschild M (2006) Spatial differentiation in life cycle impact assessment—a decade of method development to increase the environmental realism of LCIA. Int J LCA 11(Special Issue 1):11–13Google Scholar
  25. Schmidt I, Meurer M, Saling P, Kicherer A, Reuter W, Gensch CO (2004) SEEbalance®: managing sustainability of products and processes with the socio-eco-efficiency analysis by BASF. Greener Management International (Issue 45):79–94Google Scholar
  26. Vanhoutte G, Heyerick A, Mazijn B, Spillemaeckers S, Vanbraeckel D (2004) Ecological, social and environmental aspects of integrated product policy—development of two instruments (Report). Ughent-CDO and Ethibel, 2004Google Scholar
  27. Weidema B (2005) ISO 14044 also applies to social LCA. Int J LCA 10(6):381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Weidema BP (2006) The integration of economic and social aspects in life cycle impact assessment. Int J LCA 11 (1) (Special Issue) 89–96Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Camilla Dreyer
    • 1
  • Michael Z. Hauschild
    • 1
  • Jens Schierbeck
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Management Engineering, Section for Quantitative Sustainability AssessmentTechnical University of Denmark (DTU)LyngbyDenmark
  2. 2.Saxo Bank A/SGentofteDenmark

Personalised recommendations