Respecting the indirect workforce

February 11, 2008

The private sector must remember that employees within the supply chain also have rights that must be upheld.

In any discussion of workplace diversity, it is important to consider the wider implications of the issues and look beyond an organisation’s direct workforce to the people who are indirectly employed in the supply chain. However, this does add an extra layer of complexity to the nature of a company’s responsibilities and increases the chances of getting things wrong.

For example, we would all agree that prison labour is something that should be avoided at all costs. While this is undoubtedly true in cases of forced labour, there are some instances where it might be acceptable. In France for example, the practice of encouraging in-mates to engage in paid employment for commercial organisations is seen as an important part of rehabilitation, providing an opportunity to learn new skills. What is key is that there is no coercion on the part of the authorities for prisoners to undertake such work.

The fact that there are “grey areas” and certain working practices allow some room for interpretation should not deflect a company from respecting the human rights of all those involved in the supply chain. These are clearly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supported by many of the ILO Conventions.

As the news stories reported in this section attest, some companies are taking action. However, the over-riding message is that more needs to be done to address the complexities of employee rights in the supply chain.

Related News

Paying a fair price

According to researchers at Action Aid, last Christmas, supermarkets failed to pay developing country suppliers a fair price for imported groceries, saving £170m. This sum is less than 1% of supermarkets’ sales during the Christmas period and it could provide clean water for 11 million people, a year’s worth of HIV drugs for 1.5 million people in Africa or a week’s worth meals for 17 million children in Africa. The charity released the figures in a press release on December 17. Contact Action Aid 020 7561 7561

Tesco bans Uzbek cotton

Tesco announced on January 7 that it was no longer using cotton sourced from Uzbekistan due to ongoing allegations of the use of child labour in its production. The UK retailer states in a letter to suppliers that “the use of organised and forced child labour is completely unacceptable and leads us to conclude that whilst these practices persist in Uzbekistan that we cannot support the use of cotton from Uzbekistan in our textiles”. It also goes on to state that it will be requiring suppliers to identify and document the source of raw cotton and that the retailer will also randomly audit records to monitor sourcing. The move was welcomed by the Environmental Justice Foundation – an advocacy organisation who had been conducting a 3-year investigation into the production of Uzbek cotton. Contact Tesco 01992 632 222 ; Environmental Justice Foundation 020 7359 0440

HP’s supply chain guidelines

HP, the global technology company, published a report on January 17, which outlines guidelines for multinational companies to promote environmental and social responsibility throughout their supply chains. Small Suppliers in Global Supply Chains states that multinational companies can have a big impact on supply chain standards by integrating management systems in business operations, auditing, maintaining dialogue, engaging in industry-wide initiatives and engaging small and medium-sized enterprises to achieve high social and environmental standards. HP, and industry experts, provided training and advice for first and second tier suppliers to help them link their day-to-day business operations to corporate responsibility and developed the report through this process. The project was funded by the European Commission and was carried out jointly by HP and the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency. Contact HP