Where we’re driving change
During 2020-21, ETI had 16 live programmes, produced 29 resources, held 52 webinars and published 103 blogs.
In response to the immediate disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, ETI supported its members with up-to-date guidance and briefings. In the face of extreme circumstances, we developed a series of enhanced expectations on responsible business for our corporate membership, against which we surveyed members to better understand corporate behaviour, the challenges faced and identify areas requiring individual and collective support. The survey was completed by 82% of our corporate membership and the results provided a snapshot of the situation between March and September 2020, underscoring the stark situation for workers in supply chains. By holding members to account and sharing good practice, ETI was able to influence some members to adapt their approach following the initial fallout.
According to survey results, by September 2020 81% of participating members had paid for all finished products received since 1 March 2020. Despite this, only 25% could guarantee they had paid for all goods not yet dispatched. We also found that only 27% of participating members engaged with all their suppliers during this global health crisis, to ensure workers did not suffer any penalty for refusing to work due to actual or perceived risk of Covid-19 infection.
The pandemic led to big profits for some corporations and direct threat of closure, including tough decisions around redundancies and furlough, for others, particularly those with high street stores. ETI was disappointed by the conduct of brands across industries during this period. Both within and outside of the ETI membership many companies took too long to adapt and mitigate the impact of supply chain disruptions in ways that focused on people, not just profit. In response, the ETI secretariat used survey data to inform our advice to members, our programmatic work going forward and our advocacy for workers’ rights worldwide.
There is no doubt that conditions for business, both in terms of supply and demand, were uniquely challenging in 2020-21. However, for too many businesses the initial reaction was to take unilateral action without thinking of the implications along the supply chain for suppliers and vulnerable workers. We can note that after this initial reaction many businesses made significant efforts to address the inadvertent impact, but real lessons have to be learnt for the future.
Peter McAllister, Executive Director, ETI
To maximise our impact during Covid-19, ETI worked closely with multi-stakeholder initiatives and other key stakeholders to collaborate and grow our network of influence. These included Fair Wear Foundation, the Food Network for Ethical Trade (FNET), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and other ethical trading initiatives in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
In collaboration with FNET, ETI hosted regular webinars linking companies with local speakers on common employment themes and supply chain challenges across a series of time zones. This provided a timely focus on emerging needs by offering a platform to suppliers and third parties such as NGOs and trade unions. This helped to ensure needs along supply chains were heard and constructive engagement could follow. Over 1,000 stakeholders across Africa, Latin America and South East Asia participated online, supporting factories and farms as the pandemic moved to hit countries during harvest. ETI was able to draw on its extensive global network of members and wider associates to help local actors be heard and to ensure that FNET, ETI and wider resources – such as those of the International Labour Organization, the Association of Labour Providers and trade unions – were shared as widely as possible. Narratives shared by participants provided live reports of local responses to Covid-19 challenges, gaps in knowledge or action, and helped shape company responses.
Building strategic partnerships during this turbulent time enabled ETI to support a larger number of suppliers and facilitate better working conditions at a greater pace and scale than ever before.
In 2020 ETI’s direct Covid-19 initiatives reached 59,220 workers in Bangladesh and East and Southern Africa, 28,140 of which were women workers.
By challenging, supporting and learning from our members during this period, ETI was able to guide brands on responsible business behaviour, developing practical resources and holding issue-specific webinars. All of these, alongside relevant news and good practice examples, were published on our Covid-19 issue page, which received over 4,000 returning visitors and more than 2,800 new visitors during the period.
Collaboration with FNET during the Covid-19 crisis was an entirely positive step for ETI – and I believe also for FNET. There was a clear common purpose and commitment that made collaboration both easy and effective in its impact.
ETI works best when collaborating with others. The world in the 2020s is a very different place to when ETI was originally formed. The landscape is now well covered with activities that support ethical trade challenges, but there is a risk that activity alone may detract from effective industry and systems change. ETI and FNET worked well together to increase our mutual understanding of this complex landscape.
Nick Knightley, former Strategic Lead: Food, Farming & Fisheries, ETI
The Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility
The Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility (VSCF) was a rapid Covid-19 response fund set up by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), and managed by Mott MacDonald Ltd.
As one of the Facility’s 20 UK and international partners, ETI implemented two Covid-19 response and recovery projects from 2020-21 – one in the garments sector in Bangladesh and one in the agriculture sector in East and Southern Africa.
Garments from Bangladesh
In partnership with seven corporate members - Primark, New Look, Marks and Spencer plc, Tesco plc, J Sainsbury plc, Dimensions and Arco – ETI initiated a rapid Covid-19 response initiative in 20 supplier factories nominated by brands in the Dhaka area. Based on a rigorous needs assessment, ETI facilitated tablet-based Covid-19 awareness and occupational health and safety training to over 26,000 factory employees, and distributed over 47,000 safety kits. We also supported factory safety committees through the establishment of an expert supplier support network to encourage peer-to-peer learning across 37 suppliers, through monthly meetings which averaged 86 participants. Through regular engagement with this small sample of stakeholders, ETI was able to facilitate the spread of good practice during a turbulent time where effective and up-to-date information on occupational health and safety was critical. These resources are available in English and Bangla via ETI’s website and to tablet-based users by way of a QR code.
Many trainings are provided in our factory, but the tablet-based training was totally different and new to all of us, which created interest among the workers and also a willingness to participate and learn.
Hasifa Mamtaj, female employee, Ananta Huaxiang Ltd, Bangladesh
Agriculture in East and Southern Africa
Working together with nine corporate partners – John Lewis Partnership, J Sainsbury plc, Morrisons, Flamingo Horticulture, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, Co-operative Group, Tesco plc, MM Flowers and Minor, Weir and Willis – and NGO member Partner Africa, ETI supported agriculture suppliers in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 outbreaks. Corporate members nominated suppliers based on vulnerability criteria, and following site-specific needs assessments, each received bespoke technical assistance supported via Partner Africa and virtual learning events engaged a wider global network of stakeholders. This encompassed Covid-19 awareness training, anti-stigma messaging for almost 4,000 workers, Covid-19 outbreak control training and Standard Operating Procedures shared with over 50 farm managers and supervisors, and Covid-19 awareness raising text messages sent to 2,170 workers and smallholder farmers. To assist the development of business continuity during the pandemic, farm managers, cooperative leaders, workers and smallholder farms were also supported through different trainings, with some also given access to nutritional kitchen gardens. The positive impact of this project is evident, not only in the continued use of resources and skills developed, but also in the stories from project beneficiaries and survey results collected; the majority of participants felt more knowledgeable and 94% of workers felt safer at work.
The overall quality of my life has very much improved because, by returning to work again, I am guaranteed I will be able to earn some income that will help to support my family. Training has helped us to manage our finances better and helped to protect ourselves and our families from [Covid-19].
Anonymous, female participant, VSCF Training Session, Kenya
In response to both the Covid-19 and climate crises, ETI established the workstream Transitions and Futures. This strategic programme of work drives tripartite collaboration to develop solutions to manage and mitigate the impact of climate change on workers and businesses.
The programme has shaped ETI’s thinking on the future world of work and discussed emerging issues with our members both one-on-one and via virtual member events with thought leaders.
Being faced with seismic changes that threaten our world and workers’ rights creates both challenges and opportunities. In a post-pandemic world we have the opportunity to build back better and maximise the opportunity to re-imagine a world of business that respects planet and people. Whether future supply chain disruption is caused by emerging technology or devastating climatic events, developing our HRDD approach ensures preparation for change that respects worker voice and authentic participation in future plans.
Beverley Hall, Senior Transitions Advisor, ETI
Supply chain logistics
Faced with the seafarers’ crew change crisis in May 2020, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) – which represents nearly 20 million transport workers in 150 countries worldwide – partnered with ETI to drive collective human rights advocacy and combat modern slavery issues inherent in logistics supply chains. Together with members, the ITF, ILO and International Maritime Organisation, ETI contributed to the UNGC guidance, Maritime Transport and the Covid-19 Crew Change Crisis and established a Logistics Expert Support Network (LESN) for members to learn more. The LESN engaged 26 corporate members, two trade unions, and two other multi-stakeholder groups.
The LESN has given participants the opportunity to benefit from much needed insight into this vital industry, its complex supply chains and its often hidden workforce. Starting with shipping, members not only formed part of the groundswell of activity driving action in response to the crew change crisis, but also participated in testing ITF’s new Seafarers Human Rights Due Diligence health check. Going forward the LESN will continue navigating various components of how goods are transported, including haulage and warehousing.
It was the start of the journey for us mapping our shipping providers. We had obtained data on our shipping providers but needed to know how to interpret the information and how this tied into our HRDD processes. The health check made sense of what we were looking at and provided evidence to raise with our company board. For us, having the health check was a way to get real-time information from the source, having access to the crew members’ voices both through auditing and trade union representation. And most importantly we were able to access expert advice and the prospect of going beyond the audit and offer access to remedy where immediate workers assistance is needed.
Francesca Mangano, Head of Sustainability and CSR, The Foschini Group
Sustainable Textile Initiative: Together for Change
In 2020, ETI was invited to be a part of a consortium of global partners working on the Sustainable Textile Initiative: Together for Change (STITCH). Together, consortium members formulated a five-year programme which was formally accepted by the Dutch Ministry in December and initiated in January 2021. STITCH enables ETI to fund many of our initiatives across the apparel and textile sector, including those critical to our strategic focus on business practices, meaningful human rights due diligence, gender and social dialogue.
One example of this is The Industry We Want (TIWW), an initiative co-hosted by ETI and Fair Wear, which has established an inclusive vision for the industry. It is now developing a set of industry-wide indicators to measure annual progress towards this vision and galvanise action across social, commercial and environmental pillars. TIWW recognises that although there are considerable efforts and resources directed towards change in this sector, too often this is poorly coordinated and fails to address the underlying root causes. For example, wages in many places remain low, business practices remain unequal, union membership is limited and negative climate impacts are at an all-time high. In 2020-21, TIWW hosted 270 participants at a major event to set out a positive vision for the sector and started the process of developing its key sector-level metrics.
This is the only initiative in the clothing and footwear industry that looks at social, environmental and commercial with equal prominence, placing particular emphasis on commercial practices as key to unlocking social and environmental progress.
Olivia Windham Stewart, Independent Consultant, TIWW
Garments from Leicester
In recent years, we have witnessed Leicester re-emerge as a UK production centre for ultra-fast and fast fashion. This rapid growth has come at a cost, with evidence of worker abuse and exploitation discovered as far back as 2014 and exposed in Parliament in 2019. In 2020, ETI continued its work on these issues by supporting a partnership approach which saw trade unions and brands working together to bring unions into manufacturers in Leicester. Behind the scenes, we also worked to facilitate a more formal agreement between brands and unions working in this space, which we hope will come to fruition in 2022.
ETI has been perfectly placed to work within the Apparel and General Merchandising Public and Private Protocol and bring together brands, trade unions, civil society, community groups and charities to develop a programme of work addressing workplace rights in the UK Garment Sector. As a result, it has funded two outreach workers who developed the Fashion Workers Advice Bureau – a community-based support and advice service for workers in the garment industry in Leicester. More recently, ETI’s experience of working with trade unions and brands has helped guide the development of a UK binding agreement.
Heather Webb, Established Ethical Trade Partner, ASOS
Access to remedy for migrant workers
Since 2019, ETI has collaborated with Malaysian NGO Our Journey and UK company Fifty Eight, on a programme funded by the UK Government Home Office’s Modern Slavery Innovation Fund (MSIF). The programme set out to develop a set of principles that provide practical guidance on operational-level grievance mechanisms for migrant workers. It also aimed to support migrant workers to access remedy themselves, through the development and pilot of a worker-focused app.
2020-21 saw a lot of success for this project, from the development and launch of the Access to Remedy Principles and their own website, to the development, piloting and launch of the app in Malaysia, assisting workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and India. The JustGoodWork Malaysia app provides workers with accessible information on their rights and helps them in deciding what advice and support they need, as well as who to approach for help. Following its success, the programme has been funded for a second phase, extending the app to more Malaysian industries, to more migrant workers and to stakeholders engaging with migrant workers in their countries of origin. Additionally, ETI will be able to conduct wider promotion of the Access to Remedy Principles to companies and other stakeholders and develop further guidance.
We are glad that workers in Malaysia, or looking to come work in Malaysia, now have easy access to information about their rights via the Just Good Work app. The app has also made it easier for workers to reach out to us when they face issues, whether personal or at work.
Sumitha Shaanthinni Kishna, Director, Our Journey
Social dialogue in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, nationwide lockdowns characterised the first quarter of 2020-21. Factories closed for more than two months, leaving millions of readymade garment workers temporarily out of work. With funding from UK Aid’s ‘Impact Grant’, NORAD and HSBC, ETI adapted its social dialogue programme to meet the needs of workers remotely during the pandemic. While factories were closed, the ETI team in Bangladesh adjusted its social dialogue training resources and methodologies to make them more appropriate for online learning once work resumed.
Through online webinars, ETI was able to deliver key programme aims, raising awareness of the importance of worker representation, dialogue and engagement. We also delivered sessions to supervisors and managers to help strengthen their approach to problem-solving, and provided support to facilitate the functional capacity of factory participation committees or trade unions to lead workplace dialogue.
Over the year the programme reached a total of 55,347 factory workers directly through training activities and awareness-raising campaigns. It is anticipated that their increased knowledge and understanding of social dialogue and collective bargaining has in turn positively impacted an anticipated 150,000 family and community members by providing a greater sense of security through a more stable labour market.
ETI also played an instrumental role in the establishment and success of sexual harassment complaints committees (SHCCs) in six factories during the year. Alongside this, ETI provided specific training on gender equality and gender relations within the workplace, to 6,740 female and 4,608 male workers. Surveys conducted across all six factories before this training found only 16% of the male and 7% of the female workers were aware that factories are required to have a SHCC under Bangladesh law. Following this training, 73% and 71% of respondents demonstrated awareness.
I was of course happy to get elected, but I actually didn’t know what our rights were and what I could and couldn’t impact or say in my new elected role. And I did not know how I should articulate myself and speak to the management. It all made me really, really nervous and instead of making me stronger, I actually became increasingly less confident. I am grateful to ETI for providing me with the opportunity to develop my skills and knowledge [in this area] and helping me get my confidence back – the training has done the trick to help me overcome some personal barriers!
Abeda Akhter, newly elected participation committee member, Social Dialogue Training Session, Bangladesh
Human rights issues in Italian agriculture have been well documented in studies and investigative journalism over the last 10 years. ETI members and partners continue to be concerned regarding key salient risks including illegal forms of contracting and recruitment practices and poor working conditions which can amount to forced labour. In 2020, the ETI working group on Italian produce set out a plan to drive collective action for vulnerable workers. Despite the challenges for this sector and others during the period, work continued to build momentum with Italian cooperatives and processor groups. Building these relationships enabled ETI to raise awareness and share knowledge and learning with producers and their organisations on these issues, establishing a basis for collaboration and engagement with local supply chain actors. This included keeping members informed of the evolving human rights and social sustainability agendas in Italian agriculture, exploring and initiating practical collaborative processes with local suppliers and both assessing risks and disseminating awareness-raising materials on these with producer organisations in the country.
Princes is delighted to have been a founding member of the Italy working group to collaborate with like-minded stakeholders to tackle salient human rights risks affecting Italian agriculture. The insights from the working group have provided us with the confidence and purpose to systematically improve the ways in which we work with our growers, processors and co-operatives in Italian tomato procurement. Through the engagement of ETI, we have been able to assess how purchasing practice improvements can directly lead to better working conditions for vulnerable workers.
Paul Williams, Head of Environmental & Social Sustainability, Princes
Tamil Nadu multi-stakeholder programme: women mill workers
ETI has been facilitating the Tamil Nadu Multi-Stakeholder (TNMS) programme of work and working group since 2012, with the aim of socialising ethical recruitment and employment practices across the Indian state. TNMS activities were significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, related state-wide closures and mitigation efforts implemented in India over the financial year. Once it was clear that the pandemic would significantly hamper the team's ability to continue direct work in factories, including the Nalam training approach, adjustments were made to move activities online.
ETI worked to increase local ownership and sustainability of the Nalam programme, for example by adapting to a ‘Training of Trainers’ approach delivered to nine local organisations. These local organisations will go on to be approved trainers to mill and factory workers in the future.
2020-21 saw the phasing out of ETI’s direct delivery support to mills in Tamil Nadu. While this marks the end of a long relationship with the powerhouse of India’s apparel and textiles export sector, we envision that the long-term engagement of local partners through TNMS will ensure these activities continue to flourish. We will continue to facilitate member engagement with industry associations in Tamil Nadu, especially the South India Mills Association (SIMA). Of key importance going forward is a continued focus on remedy and grievance mechanisms within the sector, and support to the ongoing efforts of civil society organisations.
This programme has helped the personal development of peer educators and workers. The peer educators not only have improved themselves, but have also helped to improve their co-workers. They are becoming true representatives of the Nalam programme. I am happy about it. The ETI team has put forward so many recommendations to us for the improvement of the mill systems, which we have incorporated. Our wish is that this is sustained. We will work on it.
Anonymous, participant, TNMS Exit Meeting, India
Gender in global supply chains
ETI continued to focus on gender equality throughout the year 2020-21. Funded through the Laudes Foundation, ETI undertook two gender-focused rapid assessments of the initial impact of Covid-19 on supply chain workers; one of production line workers in China, and another on Bangladeshi women workers in garment factories. An unexpected finding revealed strong disparity among male and female workers regarding their access to information and social media usage. In February 2021, ETI Bangladesh undertook another piece of primary research titled Access to information for the readymade garment workers in Bangladesh: A gender perspective, to help inform the ETI membership on the key barriers to access information among female RMG workers with a specific attention to usage of (smart) mobile phones and internet.
The ETI secretariat also published a number of gender-specific case studies within this time period, including topics such as Payslip rights for every worker, Calling time on forced overtime, Keeping workers safe and well, Maternity rights, and Fighting back against caste discrimination. Through our Nalam Programme in South India, ETI was able to facilitate the production of resources on building talent and leadership, mental wellbeing, women’s health and hygiene at work, and workplace sexual harassment.
ETI also established an alliance of MSIs, NGOs, trade unions, academics and other relevant stakeholders to form the Gender Expert Network for Global Supply Chains, with the primary purpose of providing cohesion and alignment on priorities and guidance for companies to improve gender equality and tackle gender-related issues in supply chains. The network focuses on information sharing between organisations and alignment on disaggregated data gathering, and advocating for ILO Convention 190: Violence and Harassment in the Workplace.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to supply chain workers worldwide, but women workers have been disproportionately affected. ETI worked hard throughout this year to build an understanding and approach across all its work that includes and accounts for their impact on women workers. All too often the response to gender inequality results in narrow, targeted bodies of work, focusing solely on women. Whilst these interventions are incredibly important, it is crucial that all our work includes a gender analysis, to avoid unintentionally exclusionary or negative impacts through a lack of consideration of women's needs.
Clare Fitton, Impact Advisor and Gender Programme Manager, ETI