There is a high risk of employees’ rights being abused in global supply chains. Guaranteeing good working conditions is a substantial and important part of companies’ responsibilities in terms of respecting human rights.
Fundamental workers’ rights are defined in the ILO’s eight core conventions. These apply throughout all supply chains and constitute a minimum standard for working conditions all around the world. But in many places, the conventions are far from respected. There are major deficiencies in working conditions in several of the countries where Swedish companies have a strong presence. Union rights and those who fight for them are particularly under threat. According to the ILO, the UN’s agency dealing with labour issues, there are more migrant workers in the world now than ever before. Many of them are exploited in various forms of modern slavery.
Requirements and control
An increasing number of companies are focusing on improving working conditions by imposing requirements on suppliers in the form of contracts and codes of conduct. But just as important in order to find out whether regulations are being followed is monitoring and control. Companies’ responsibilities also extend beyond suppliers in the first chain – subcontractors also need to be checked. It is often here that the risk of abuses is greatest.
Stay and impose requirements
Leaving a country or a supplier with poor working conditions rarely has a positive impact on the workers’ situation. In most cases, the more responsible course of action is to stay and impose requirements. But then these requirements have to be monitored and any problems addressed. It can take time and require a long-standing relationship with suppliers. If there is no improvement, then the company may be forced to discontinue the relationship with the supplier. But first the company needs to analyse the effects this might have and devise a plan so as not to aggravate the situation.
Shrinking civic space
The world has witnessed a systematic and global crackdown on the conditions for civil society in recent years which has greatly restricted civic space and the ability of trade unions to defend workers’ rights. Impunity for attacks, particularly on people defending environmental, land and indigenous people’s rights is also increasing, alongside a global surge in lawsuits and other forms of intimidation of civil society representatives. Shrinking civic space threatens many types of civic actors and women in particular. As formal political processes are often inaccessible to them, they primarily engage through the civic space. As a result, women human rights and environmental defenders have reduced abilities to advocate for or exercise political influence.
Working to increase the power and voice of rights holders is at the heart of Swedwatch’s work. We have identified expanded civic space as a priority area in order to address the urgent issue of shrinking space and increased threats facing environmental human rights defenders.