ETI has now closed all its offices, in the UK and overseas, in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. We spent the last week working with colleagues to set in place new working at home arrangements and helping colleagues adjust to their caring responsibilities with family and others.
We will continue to make further adjustments this week (23rd to -27th March) as some countries take further protective measures, such as closing schools and restricting movement. Our first concern is the safety of our colleagues, which will have an impact on how we work.
However during this global crisis the rights and conditions of workers in global supply chains remain ETI’s clear focus, at a time when there will be significant disruption to business patterns which will impact workers. While we understand that business may have to take extraordinary steps to ensure that they create a safe environment, protect their employees and ensure long term business continuity, they still have responsibility for the impact of these decisions through their supply chains. We would expect business, especially lead firms such as brands and retailers, to work with their business partners to minimize the negative impact of any changes.
Where business has had to increase the supply of essential goods, such as food or PPE, there needs to be extra attention to the planning and engagement with suppliers so that health and safety at work are not compromised. Recognising that there will be a need for additional effort there should still be efforts to avoid ongoing excessive working hours and the requirements of workers for their families must be taken into account when requesting overtime for example. Where unions are present, even if not formally recognised, we would encourage managers to work with workers representatives at this time to agree extraordinary working practices.
Where business has had to cancel orders and shut their business temporarily, it is important that they share the responsibility of ensuring that wages already earned by workers in factories in their supply chain are paid and that to the extent possible arrangements are made to provide support for workers during shut-down periods. While some countries may have national programmes that will support workers, some may not. Business can work with others to collectively create alternative mechanisms for the support of workers, who otherwise might quickly be destitute.
We need to stand in solidarity with our partners and workers through this difficult time.
ETI will be working with its members and experts to provide practical advice in the coming days, recognising that these are extraordinary times and that the situation will change.
We wish that all our members, their colleagues and business partners will make every effort to stay safe and well as we all go through this unprecedented period together. Sooner or later we will emerge from these difficult times and will once again need to rely on our relationships, our partners and above all workers in supply chains to help return to normal. We need to stand in solidarity with our partners and workers through this difficult time.