Human Rights and the Supply Chain

Why Cooperation is Key to Improving Labor Practices
Human Rights and the Supply Chain
A REPORT RECENTLY RELEASED by the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Human Rights wants to change the way global businesses view their supply chains. Its authors propose recommendations they hope will spur business leaders, lawmakers, and suppliers to address human rights challenges in global supply chains—an overall approach they describe as “shared responsibility.” The report’s authors include Mike Posner, co-director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business and chair of the Global Agenda Council, and Marcela Manubens, global vice-president of social impact at Unilever and member of the Global Agenda Council.

The report divides that shared responsibility into four areas: adopting industrywide practices, increasing visibility of human rights violations, assessing costs, and encouraging cooperation among key industry stakeholders. Its authors call for collective action at the industry level, with attention to "a fair allocation of the ... costs and commitments necessary to achieve it." While no company should have to take on the sole responsibility of addressing human rights issues in its industry, the authors note that some companies have more power—and more responsibility—than others to effect change.

They point to the Apparel Industry Partnership as an example of the successful implementation of a shared responsibility model. In the 1990s, the AIP brought manufacturers, labor unions, consumer groups, and NGOs together to eliminate sweatshops and improve working conditions in the clothing and athletic footwear industries. Their efforts led to the formation of the Fair Labor Association in 1999.

For industries to improve their global supply chains through shared responsibility, the authors write, it will require “the audacity to recognize when existing approaches are not working and to take bold action under a self-generated mandate to create new solutions that practically improve the lives of the workers and communities that make globalization possible.”

A link to the report “Shared Responsibility: A New Paradigm for Supply Chains” is available at www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/why-human-rights-is-a-shared-responsibility.