How stakeholders are pushing for commitments to responsible & sustainable supply chains at the G20

Cindy S. Woods, Legal and Policy Associate, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (USA).

"Bangladesh.Gazipur BIGUF.2015" by Solidarity Center licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Broad consensus from civil society, labour, business & international organisations is driving policy commitment on sustainable supply chains.

The response to the ‘problem’ of globalisation is not binary. State actors have the ability to reshape its current model. As a key forum for global trade and investment, the G20 can demonstrate how a redesigned model of globalisation can lead to better living and working conditions worldwide.

The 2017 G20 Summit is well poised to make bold commitments and engagement groups from across stakeholder perspectives are working to ensure that it does.

The modern global economy depends heavily on the use and functioning of global supply chains. As such, it is imperative to equitable growth and development that these supply chains be sustainable. The 2017 G20 Summit is well poised to make bold commitments in this regard - and engagement groups from across stakeholder perspectives are working to ensure that it does.

Broad consensus from stakeholders

Many stakeholder groups have been actively engaging with the G20 process, pushing for bold new and specific commitments on sustainable supply chains. These groups include civil society, labour organizations, businesses, and even the UN system. 

Civil society 

Global civil society has been strongly engaged in this year’s G20 process, pushing G20 governments to adopt strong commitments in relation to sustainable global supply chains.

For example, the Responsible Investment Working Group of the Civil-20 recommended that all G20 countries “require mandatory due diligence throughout supply chains to identify, prevent, mitigate, track and communicate possible human rights or labour rights violations, corruption, and adverse environmental impacts.” It also called on the G20 to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and accede to the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises to ensure responsible business conduct.

Similarly, a coalition of global civil society organizations working specifically on issues of business and human rights (BHR), the G20 BHR Task Force, submitted an open letter to the G20 Employment Working Group, calling for similar provisions to promote transparency and human rights due diligence in supply chains. Task Force members include the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, OECD Watch, Accountability Counsel, Oxfam International, and the Institute for Human Rights and Business, to name a few. Human Rights Watch also issued similar recommendations to the German government in relation to human rights in global supply chains.

Labour 

Labour-20 (the labour engagement group to the G20), has consistently called on the G20 to coordinate action in relation to promoting decent work through labour rights and employment protections. According to L20’s proposals for the 2017 G20, “responsible investment and rights in global supply chains must be a centrepiece of the global rule of law.” This can be achieved through, inter alia, (1) reaffirming commitment to the UNGPs; (2) endorsing the OECD Global Due Diligence Guidance; and (3) strengthening access to judicial and non-judicial grievance mechanisms, such as the OECD National Contact Point system. 

Business

Within the B20 (the business engagement group to the G20), the Task Force on Employment and Education is tasked with addressing sustainability in global supply chains. As a policy recommendation, the B20 advocates for the “creation of a global level playing field and the promotion of fair competition” in relation to sustainable global supply chains. Similarly, the B20 Policy Recommendation to the G20, presented during the 2017 B20 Summit, calls on G20 countries to support the UNGPs, the OECD Guidelines, and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. 

International organizations

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, mandated by the Human Rights Council to promote the implementation and dissemination of the UNGPs, has also made a number of recommendations specifically to the Employment Working Group in relation to preventing and addressing business-related human rights impacts throughout supply chains. These include (1) supporting implementation of the UNGPs through NAPs; (2) ensuring State-owned or controlled enterprises respect human rights; (3) establishing clear expectations that business enterprises domiciled in a States’ territory, including through exercising human rights due diligence across value chains.

According to the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, G20 commitments in line with their recommendations “would be a game-changer to strengthen collective global efforts to achieve sustainable supply chains and a global economy founded on respect for human rights and dignity for all.”

In order reverse inequality, and make globalisation work for all, global supply chains must take into account human rights and environmental issues.

G2017: Reforming global supply chains

Global supply chains have embedded themselves as a staple of globalisation over the past few decades.  However, unfair and unjust business practices are hallmarks of the current model - allowing large companies to profit off cheap labour and production, by spurring a race to the bottom in terms of human rights, labour, and environmental protections.

In order to address, and ultimately reverse this base inequality, and make globalisation work for all, global supply chains must take into account human rights and environmental issues.

While the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers did not go as far as to commit to mandatory due diligence processes, it responded to many of the policy requests of stakeholders. 

Last Friday, the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers issued the 2017 LEMM Declaration. The Declaration reaffirms G20 commitments to the UNGPs, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (for those States who adhere to them). It also commits member States to “take immediate and effective measures. . . towards eradicating modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking” and calls for the creation of a joint report “containing proposals on how to accelerate action to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, forced labour, and modern slavery in global supply chains.” The LEMM Declaration also underlined the importance of human rights due diligence and reporting; vowing to promote due diligence processes and transparency in global supply chains, and support new initiatives to facilitate industry-wide due diligence and harmonize audit standards.

While the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers did not go as far as to commit to mandatory due diligence processes, it responded to many of the policy requests of stakeholders. Overall, the 2017 LEMM Declaration represents a strong first step towards increasing responsible business conduct in global supply chains through the G20 process. 

This blog is part of an ongoing series encouraging dialogue on, and raising the visibility of the G20 Summit as a business and human rights opportunity.