OECD 2018 Forum on human rights due diligence in the garment and footwear sector

Vietnam garment factory ©ILO/Aaron Santos

This week, the OECD is hosting its annual Forum on human rights due diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector and ETI’s Ben Rutledge (Business and Human Rights Advisor) and Martin Buttle (Apparel and Textiles Lead) are attending.

This year’s OECD Forum will review progress on the implementation of the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector, which was launched last year and which we blogged on at the time.

As Roel Nieuwenkamp, Chair of the OECD Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct has pointed out, with the new OECD Due Diligence Guidance, we finally say goodbye to the neo-colonialist, top-down approach to compliance and auditing, where western brands tell developing country factories what to do.

That's important. After all, the garment and footwear sector is one of the world’s largest consumer goods sectors.

Through our participation this year, we hope to promote some of the good practice of our members.

But we will also highlight that much more still needs to be done to improve working conditions in global supply chains. And we want to address the soaring inequality and exploitation that irresponsible business practice is perpetuating.

A brief recap of the guidance: The guidance was developed to promote a common understanding of due diligence and responsible supply chain management in the sector, and how corporates can implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). In doing so, it provides detailed and practical advice on what companies should do to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for adverse impacts in their supply chains. Companies are expected to assess risks across the full length of their value chain, including risks related to subcontracting and homeworkers. They are also expected to provide remedy where harm has occurred as a result of business activities or relationships. ETI contributed to its development by providing recommendations during the consultations.

Facilitating shared learning

This year’s forum will facilitate shared learning from across various countries.

As ETI’s contribution to that learning, Martin Buttle is presenting on purchasing practices and due diligence.

His session will highlight our recent Guide to Buying Responsibly research carried out by the Joint Ethical Trading Initiatives of the UK, Denmark and Norway in collaboration with the ILO and with the assistance of SEDEX.

He’ll also update on ACT and talk about Better Buying, the new online platform that that allows suppliers to anonymously rank the buying practices of brands and retailers.

Additionally, Martin’s session will focus on the experiences of manufacturers in Bangladesh and Turkey.

UNGP expectations

ETI’s Guide to Buying Responsibly draws on UNGP expectations that brands and retailers should assess their own purchasing practices and determine how their price setting and ordering may be undermining respect for workers’ rights.

While suppliers have a key role and responsibility for providing good working conditions for the people they employ, their efforts can be undermined by the buying practices of their customers - often the same retailers who are pushing them to comply with their codes of labour practice.

Our guide includes best practice examples and outlines the five key business practices that influence wages and working conditions: these are contract clauses, technical specifications, order placement (and lead times), prices and marketing power – and requests for social standards.

A collaborative approach

In line with the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines, we’re promoting a collaborative approach to due diligence.

It’s an approach that recognises the importance of partnerships between buyers, suppliers and workers in identifying methods to address risks and monitor progress over time.

ETI’s own Human Rights Due Diligence Framework, and our new online members reporting platform, Perspective, are closely aligned with the UNGPs and OECD Guidelines and we recommend them to all responsible businesses.

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