United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, Asia-Pacific
Day 2 | 8 June
Decent Work in Supply Chains
The Asia- Pacific region has played a key role in the growth of Supply Chains in the last three decades. Supply chains can now be found in a multitude of sectors including agri-food, garments and textiles, electronics, and automotive manufacturing. In fact, supply chains embrace all economic activity regardless of country, region or level of development. Most supply chains are in the domestic economy. They account for 80 percent of GDP (WTO) and employ 85-95 percent of workers (ILO estimates). They now also account for a substantial portion of trade with multinational enterprises.
Asia Pacific’s rise, economically and socially, has gone hand in hand with its integration into global trade and supply chains which have in turn transformed labour markets, created opportunities for millions and reduced poverty. But on the flip side, supply chains also have decent work deficits, especially in domestic ones where most decent work deficits arise, and the pandemic has led to important disruptions, exposing both their structural and internal vulnerabilities (Alliance 8.7. report) After the pandemic, the attention has switched to how supply chains can become more resilient and sustainable and how these can represent an effective and positive entry point for the promotion of decent work.
Supply Chains can be an opportunity to encourage formalisation of economic units and workers. There is evidence that suggests that supply chain benefits also include a decline in working poverty and gains in labour productivity, as well as job quality improvements, due to modernisation and skills training. Yet, this requires an enabling environment for sustainable business provided by effective law implementation and enforcement by governments. The vast majority of supply chains is composed of SMEs. Because the formal sector is more regulated and typically subject to higher compliance and due diligence standards and oversight, human rights harm is less likely in the formal sector. Contrarywise, SMEs in the informal economy, in particular those operating in the lower tiers of supply chains, fall outside the scope of regulations and this is where most negative business-related deficits in decent work persist.
Governance issues are the main drivers of decent work deficits in supply chains, ranging from child labour and forced labour, connected to migrant workers, to discrimination, unsafe working conditions and limited access to enabling rights of freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
Since governance remains a challenge, the way business enterprises and supply chains operate, can affect people’s enjoyment of their human rights either positively or negatively. The UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights, clearly outline the State duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights as well as the need for access to remedy for those whose rights have been infringed clearly define the respective complementary roles of States and businesses. They all need to be considered to ensure genuine and lasting advancement of decent work in all supply chains. These different yet complementary roles can also be found in the ILO’s Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration) that aims to encourage the positive contribution of business to economic and social progress and the realization of decent work for all; and to minimize and resolve the difficulties to which their operations may give rise.
Resolving decent work deficits, requires action from all actors, addressing root causes and drivers of decent work deficits through coherent action at the sectoral, national, regional and global levels, with specific attention to international labour standards, social dialogue and tripartism and a firm commitment to addressing gender disparities and inequalities in supply chains and prioritizing the inclusion and protection of groups of workers who are likely to be more exposed to vulnerable situations resulting in decent work deficits.
The key objectives of this session are to:
Understand the characteristics of supply chains which present an opportunity for intervention to promote decent work, and characteristics that present challenges.
Explore how all stakeholders can work together to promote decent work in all supply chains (including domestic ones).
Panelists will reflect on the following questions in relation to the Asia-Pacific region:
How can supply chain represent an effective and positive entry point for promoting decent work and what measure and/or best practices have proven to work well?
What are some of the interventions by ILO, constituents and other stakeholders in supply chains and what lesson learned can be drawn?
How can human rights due diligence support the promotion of decent work in supply chains. How can this support collective action to advance the BHR agenda?
How do the three pillars of the UNGPs support decent work in all supply chains and what progress has been made in Asia Pacific??