Top Stories

February 16, 2016

Supply Chain

Report: Abuse of migrant workers now a top risk for businesses

The illegal and often abusive treatment of migrant workers is one of the most pressing reputational risks for global corporations, according to a new report released by Verisk Maplecroft. Recent exposés concerning forced labour – from the Thai seafood industry to the Turkish garment sector – reveal how pervasive the problem of migrant abuse is. It is rare for multinationals to employ illegal migrants directly, but claiming ignorance about abusive practices in their supply chains is no longer a defence, says the report. “There is a public assumption that companies are responsible for all the workers that contribute to the end product that they sell,” says Alexandra Channer, principal human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “Most companies have not mapped beyond their tier 1 [primary] suppliers, so they have this hidden deep part of their supply chain where they are vulnerable to serious human rights allegations that they might be totally unaware of.” (Guardian)


Report: M&S accused of paying Asian workers less than living wage

A new report by Labour Behind the Label finds workers making clothes for British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) in Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh earn less than half what they need for decent living. The report comes six years after the retailer promised to support the payment of a living wage in those countries. “Everybody was lauding M&S as having achieved something great, but when we checked it out, there has not been an effect,” said Anna McMullen, a campaigner at Labour Behind the Label. She called on M&S to be more transparent about its supply chain. M&S said the price it paid its suppliers was sufficient to support a living wage, but that the complex nature of the supply chain meant it could not determine the wages paid to employees. “We are committed to ensuring our cost prices remain high enough to pay a fair living wage, training workers in financial literacy and worker rights, and playing our part in collaborating with other brands and governments to improve the sector,” an M&S spokesperson said. (Guardian)

Responsible Investment

Israel boycott ban triggers UK pension protest

More than 12,000 people have signed a petition calling on the UK government to abandon proposals that have been widely interpreted as political interference in how pension schemes invest. The new rules are designed to stop politically motivated divestment campaigns against UK defence companies and against Israel. Local councils, public bodies and even some university student unions are to be banned by law from boycotting “unethical” companies. Senior pension officials and local councillors fear the new rules would block them from pulling money out of companies on legitimate ethical grounds around issues such as human rights, the arms trade or fossil fuels. Ros Altmann, the UK pensions minister, said: “We do not believe it is appropriate for pension trustees to make their own political decisions on boycotting certain investments.”  (Financial Times*, Independent)


M&S eyes 100 percent LED-lit estate by 2025

Marks & Spencer (M&S) wants to build on “the most comprehensive, wide-ranging sustainability plan in retail” by fitting out its entire UK estate with LED lighting by 2025. Speaking at a non-domestic energy event in London, M&S’s head of facilities management Munish Datta said that setting “uncomfortable targets” has become essential for M&S to make its stores and office buildings more sustainable. “I would be very confident that by 2025, and if not then, quite disappointed, that our estate in the UK will be fully LED-lit.” Datta called on delegates to prioritise behaviour change and translate energy savings into a language that resonates with staff in order to maximise the potential of energy efficiency programmes. (edie)

Corporate Reputation

Drugs companies fined £45 million for ‘stifling’ drug competition

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been fined in the UK for paying money to generic drug companies to prevent the potential entry of generic alternatives to its own “blockbuster” anti-depressant between 2001 and 2004. GSK’s so-called pay-to-delay agreements were found to have delayed the launch of generic alternatives to its anti-depressant Seroxat. When a generic version of the drug did enter the market in 2003, its price dropped by over 70 per cent in two years, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said. Alongside GSK, the CMA also levied a £5.8 million fine on the German drugs giant Merck and a £1.5 million penalty on Activis. GSK said it strongly disagreed with the fine, and argued its actions had actually brought down the cost of medicine for the UK’s state-run health service. The drugmaker added it was considering grounds for appeal. (Independent 1; 2)


Image source: Bangladeshi women sewing clothes by USAID Bangladesh / Public Domain