In 2 weeks we all learned a new set of words and had to adapt to a surreal new normal.
"Unprecedented", "unparalleled" and "exceptional" now litter almost every article, conversation, news broadcast and email. This new normal has also ushered in a change in habits, behaviours and human interaction.
In the midst of the mayhem a few things have really come into focus for me.
Due to an unseen virus causing isolation and self-distancing our freedom to associate and to congregate has gone. Yes, we may be lucky enough to connect with others via the ether and organise ourselves through various e-platforms. But step onto the street or into a shop and one immediately feels the unspoken “you may have IT”. Calculations of distance pop into your head as you cling desperately to the last few drops of hand sanitizer.
The power of social dialogue has really come into its own through the example of the UK government working with trade unions, business and experts to deliver the financial security all of us need at a time like this. Whether in the corridors of power, on a factory floor, in a fishing vessel or on a farm the principles of social dialogue apply and can deliver solutions to very tricky and complex situations in which workers and employers find themselves.
Speaking of focus – north, south, west and east – COVID19 has dominated and is dominating conversations at all levels of society. The trickle-down effect from high and inter-governmental dialogue to finding medical, economic and social solutions is being discussed by family and friends as well.
One clear thing pertinent to our global supply chain world is this pandemic casts a light on how fragile our globalised world is
One clear thing pertinent to our global supply chain world is this pandemic casts a light on how fragile our globalised world is. The sad reality is that governments have failed to build systems of universal social protection, leaving no safety net in times of crisis for more than 70% of the world’s people. The economic and labour implications are severe.
Critical actions that responsible, progressive businesses can take to show leadership
Reviewing labour and human rights risk due diligence risk mapping
Where labour rights are already identified as non-existent or weak and not enforced, this should now raise a red flag of deep concern for workers. There is already evidence of mass lay-offs, factory closures and harvest concerns. Established grievance mechanisms could be diverted or amended, for a period, to capture data of labour rights breaches that reflect these wider actions. In some countries, such as South Africa, all current labour disputes in the system have been placed on hold until further notice.
Open, honest and transparent dialogue and consultation with ALL relevant stakeholders within your supply chain
Including social partnerships such as trade unions at national and site level. It is now time to call on the relationships developed on your ethical journey to enable inclusive discussions with the principles of social dialogue at their heart. The Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD today published and excellent resource that maps out trade union and social partners’ responses including the Global Union Federations for sector news and advice and also by country. Non-OECD country information will be added in due course.
Investment in two-way communication for rapid response between head offices and suppliers
As we’ve seen in the UK, advice is being published and updated as the pandemic moves through the various stages. Business practices will also now come under scrutiny. At the minimum there ought to be guarantees of orders and faster payment mechanisms.
Focusing on and reinforcing the health and safety of all workers
The advice on handwashing and the use of sanitizers is universal. It is important to reinforce health and safety messages to all suppliers and producers but also to take into consideration water supply for all workers, additional breaks for hand washing and potentially the supply of gloves as an additional barrier.
Understanding the role we all play in this new reality
The pandemic has placed the value of workers centre stage. In the UK the importance of shop assistants, postal workers, delivery services and hospital cleaners has focused attention on the role we all play in this new reality. Sharon Burrows of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called for “the immediate protection for workers, families, communities and real economy businesses with guarantees for paid sick leave, for wages protection and for public health and other areas of vital care for all are essential as the first step to stabilising the fallout from the pandemic.” Within in this, we too can play a role ensuring that suppliers and other social partners have access to and can communicate to their workers and other tier suppliers.
We know “this too shall pass” and no doubt we will spend months documenting and learning all there is to know about the why, how, when, what and where of COVID19. The standout quote for me the last few days comes from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP, “We want to look back on this time and remember how, in the face of a generation-defining moment, we undertook a collective national effort and we stood together.”
The key is collective action – here, there and everywhere.