The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how fragile, broken and unequal supply chains are. As the crisis unfolds, we are seeing an emerging narrative on what the recovery, and the "new normal" that emerges, might look like. ETI held a virtual think tank event on Wednesday 29 April to explore ideas with key stakeholders to explore these ideas and look at how to build a fairer, more sustainable global supply chain in the long-term where workers rights, and livelihoods, are respected and protected.
The event was introduced by ETI's Executive Director, Peter McAllister and included contributions from Damien Grimshaw, Professor of Employment Studies at King’s College and ex-Director of Research at the ILO Geneva, Bert DeWel, Climate Policy Officer at ITUC, Peter Andrews, Head of Sustainability Policy at the British Retail Consortium, Kathy Roussel, Policy and Government Affairs Manager at AMFORI, Dr Martin Buttle, Head of Good Work at Share Action and Professor Stephanie Barrientos of the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester.
Shaping the "new normal": Peter McAllister
The Covid-19 crisis has thrown into sharp relief how, for many years, we have been addressing the symptoms of a system rather than the system itself. Covid-19 has presented us with an opportunity to do things differently and drive change. ETI has reviewed its post-2020 strategy, Human Rights at Work, to ensure it's absolutely relevant for the current crisis, particularly in relation to partnerships, collaboration and transitions, to help better understand and shape the "new normal" that will emerge at the end of the pandemic
"Tripartism Plus" and a new social contract: Damien Grimshaw
Unemployment is reaching crisis levels everywhere, with workers in informal or precarious work the worst affected, as they are not usually able to access social protections. Developing and emerging countries are at the wrong end of two highly unequal power chains, with both workers and suppliers at the mercy of a rising number of "superstar buyers", and hugely unequal outcomes between countries with inbuilt resilience, and those without it. The situation is compounded by low levels of labour inspection and compliance, and high levels of child labour in areas such as the exported of raw materials, where there is less scrutiny.
We need a universal labour guarantee based on ILO conventions which includes living wages, decent working hours and health and safety at an absolute minimum
We need a universal labour guarantee built on ILO conventions which includes living wages, working hours and health and safety as an absolute minimum. This must be tied to inclusive growth, long-term investment, fair income share, environmental sustainability.
And above all, we need a new social contract. A "tripartite plus" which doesn't just include the usual stakeholders of unions, employment bodies and governments, but which also brings new voices to the discussion, such as local and regional civil society organisations and more "agile" and inclusive trade unions, which represent the interests of both women and men.
Bert de Wel: ITUC's Global Day of Action to climate-proof business
1 May 2020 is Labour Day. This year's focus will, unsurprisingly, be on the global impact of Covid-19 on workers.
Covid-19 has revealed all too clearly how the current economic model is unsustainable and has negative impacts on both workers and the environment. But it also provides jobs and incomes in plantation and commodity agriculture, for millions of workers around the world.
The pandemic has taught us that going forward we will need to protect biodiversity, save nature, and implement a Just Transition, not just for workers but for their families and communities.
ITUC is running a campaign this summer, with a Global Day of Action on 24 June, encouraging its affiliate members to start a dialogue with country governments and employers on how to use Just Transition methodology to "climate proof" businesses.
Social and tripartite dialogue will be key to putting the framework into practice, in different contexts
The policy framework and recommendations have been created with the ILO, but will need to be adapted to different contexts. Social and tripartite dialogue will be key to success, as will the inclusion of informal workers.
Peter Andrews: towards a greener, fairer recovery
Business leadership and partnership with government is key, and there is appetite for change and tackle challenges holistically
Since Covid-19, demands from consumers for a greener, fairer recovery have been very much in evidence. The huge support or keyworkers, which has included food workers for the first time, is a part of this. Public finance is flowing, and will continue to flow, to businesses that are well prepared in terms of resilience and government-level reviews of food strategies around the world are likely to focus on self-sufficiency.
That said, we don't know how many of these changes will be long term. There has been a huge growth in online deliveries in the last 5 weeks, as well as an increase in shopping at convenience stores compared to supermarkets. But consumers are still buying similar kinds of food products to the ones they bought before the pandemic.
Working together is the key to tackle challenges
Business leadership and partnership with government is key, and there is appetite for change and tackle challenges holistically. We need a clear vision from government about what a stronger economy looks like, but the government has supported business during Covid-19, and that should be returned by business. We are working on the SDGs and a climate roadmap and will to continue to define how business can be sustainable.
Kathy Roussel: the impact of Covid-19 on the EU Green Deal
Amfori represents over 2000 companies, 100 in the food sector, and supports business in sustainable management of supply chain.
Panic buying, stockpiling and disruption in Europe have been minimal. There have been bigger disruptions in logistics due to travel restrictions, and shortages of seasonal workers who are identified as critical.
The EU is committed to keeping global trade open, and has established green lanes established to keep food flowing across Europe and streamlined border crossings for priority goods.
The EU Green Deal is a roadmap for action towards carbon neutrality by 2050, and is a legally binding statement. It is not only about tackling climate change, however, but creating jobs and enhancing prosperity.
Businesses, in survival mode and some have called for a delay to implementing the Green Deal programme, but the EU still backs it, while recognising that Covid-19 will impact on timing, and levels of ambition.
The key challenges for a green recovery will be ensuring open and sustainable trade, building a resilient supply chain, ensuring responsible purchasing practices are adopted, and protecting workers.
Martin Buttle: Covid-19 and ethical investment
Investors are an important stakeholder and need to be included in the discussion
Share Action's Workforce Disclosure Initiative works to get the largest companies to publish data on workers and has the backing of investors.
Share Action's annual WDI survey asks the largest retailers about how they treat their employees, contract workers, contingent workers and supply chains. Its 2019 survey revealed that while companies are willing to share information on employees, but only 25% are sharing information on contingent workers.
The market for responsible investment is growing and investors beginning to use the data when engaging with companies. They understand that ESG funds often outperform traditional investments and are beginning to take an interest in how companies perform in relation to issues such as wages and sick pay. Investors are an important stakeholder and need to be included in the discussion.
Stephanie Barrientos: Covid-19 and the impact on women workers
Women spend more money on household welfare which is key for the SDGs
The volume of workers dependent on the global value chain is huge and governments are now scrambling to deal with this especially in relation to social protections. Governments will need to work with companies to ensure social protections, including for those in precarious work, and involve local civil society organisations who work with those most vulnerable workers, many of whom are women.
Covid-19 outcomes have been different for different workers, but the pandemic has a particularly serious impact on women.
Women make up 60-70% of workers in the garment industry and a high percentage of the food service industry workforce, both sectors which have seen huge retrenchment. And an estimated 90% of homeworkers, who have been severely impacted by the pandemic, are women.
Around the world, women are concentrated in precarious work at lower tiers and so have suffered a greater economic shock from coronavirus. But there is evidence that women spend more money on household welfare, which is key for achieving the SDGs.
Nick Kightley: summing up - a time for questions and exploring options
Global supply chains have demonstrated themselves to be both vulnerable and also surprisingly resilient (in the food sector) in a time of Covid-19.
However, the most vulnerable in society have been worst affected and those in low priority sectors and jobs have suffered more. Some level of improved social protection along supply chains appears inevitable, but these protections are not yet defined or universally agreed.
There is an appetite and narrative for change. But there is also a risk that any reforms of pre-Covid-19 business practices will be minor or incremental at best. Pressures to get business back up and running will lead to quick and easier steps being chosen (based on what is already known).
Speakers today describe a range of views and initiatives exploring a "new normal" or "buildingbackbetter" but nothing is certain and there is only limited integration between different dialogues. What will drive more fundamental or radical change in favour of those most vulnerable?
Tripartite plus – can this offer an effective mechanism for debate, consent, decision making and implementation of changes? It sounds inclusive, but is it workable across complex global supply chains? Will the weakest voices inevitably lose out? Can established power balances be re-balanced through tripartite plus approaches alone? Investors (wanting high returns) are also consumers (wanting low prices) and are also workers (wanting living wages). Are individuals and society willing and able to weave an equilibrium model between their conflicting interests here?
Trade union members are caught in some of the worst climate-changing industries and yet also need their jobs. How can they support the transition to better businesses and jobs and build effective global voices in the modern age of business? How can technology build stronger local unions and more effective employer engagement?
Purchasing practices are discussed, but how will more equitable contracts and commercial decisions be introduced and regulated? Do voluntary schemes work at a global level? The UK Grocery Code Adjudicator and Code has been effective in re-balancing UK food retailer-supplier power imbalances. Is there interest in a global model to provide more stable trading relationships?
How can States be held to account for the protection of workers? History has many examples where the State fails to protect workers and where global trade has flourished regardless of the lack of social protection. A new and enforceable Social Contract is needed.
And how can international bodies better influence the regulatory environment – for investments, business practices, employment practices? Voluntary mechanisms eg implementation of ILO conventions, are extremely slow to gain traction.
This seems to be an opportunity to bring together the threads of the climate change debate with those for equality in society and for sustainable business.