GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS PLENARY
Strengthening Resilience in Asian Supply Chains
DAY 1 | 20 March
Global developments have and will continue to confront governments and businesses with dilemmas that could have severe consequences for workers. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, global brands were put in the spotlight when they overwhelmingly cancelled orders from their suppliers, often resulting in job losses which pushed workers (back) into poverty. Similarly, inflation and economic volatility caused by global geopolitical crises and economic shocks are affecting businesses across the globe, which again may have real-life consequences for workers in South Asia. Indeed, if businesses need to cut costs, this can increase human rights risks for workers.
Moreover, due to the pressure from a wide variety of stakeholders on business and human rights, governments in various western countries – and timidly but increasingly, Asian countries too – have enacted legislation to protect against business-related human rights abuses, including those in global supply chains.
Various developed countries enforce or are developing obligations to protect against business-related human rights abuses in global value chains. For example, five European countries have adopted mandatory human rights due diligence (mHRDD) legislation requiring companies to identify, address and remediate business-related human rights abuses, including those in the supply chain. Moreover, the European Union (EU) will require and harmonize such human rights due diligence (HRDD) obligations across the EU if the Proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) is adopted. Similarly, the United States (US) Customs & Border Protection agency prevents the entry of products made with forced labour into the US market by investigating and acting upon allegations. Finally, the US and Japan have recently launched a Task Force to Promote Human Rights and International Labor Standards in Supply Chains. In Asia too, legislative initiatives have started to influence the business landscape. In the South Asia region, for example, the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs has mandated businesses to prepare and submit a Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report. In Southeast Asia, the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission has mandated stock-listed companies to report on their human rights due diligence measures and grievance mechanisms. Finally, in East Asia, Japan adopted Guidelines on Respecting Human Rights in Responsible Supply Chains which, although being voluntary in nature, has caused an awakening among Japanese companies with transnational supply chains.
Companies of all sorts are starting to anticipate challenges linked to these trends, among others. Companies with global value chains might face significant challenges in mapping their supply chain and (potential) impacts and identifying abuses. “Lead companies” with large supply chains might already find it challenging to conduct meaningful HRDD among first-tier suppliers, let alone those in distant tiers of the supply chain, for example, informal or home workers. They might also face challenges related to (undisclosed) subcontracting by their suppliers, effectively measuring working conditions on the ground, and industry-wide challenges. Finally, corporate lawyers might advise companies to cut their business ties with certain suppliers, regions or countries to avoid reputational, legal and financial risks. But, arguably, this so-called “cut and run approach” is against the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), as workers will not be served by quick and easy divestment.
At the same time, suppliers might face challenges in navigating the evolving business landscape and negotiating the terms of engagement with “lead brands” who often have significant economic power and leverage over suppliers. Indeed, a fear for South Asian suppliers is that “lead brands” will put the entire burden of respecting human rights on them. For example, this may be the case if lead brands do not provide support and incentives to suppliers to respect human rights, or if lead brands employ irresponsible purchasing practices - such as unreasonable production deadlines or lowest cost production of goods - which make it challenging for suppliers to respect human rights without cutting corners. In the end, someone has to absorb the “costs”. As a panelist from last year’s Forum noted, one cannot require a living wage without increasing prices. And as another noted, meaningful HRDD requires companies to also look inwards to how their business models may affect human rights: to address root causes instead of treating symptoms superficially.
Finally, some fear that upcoming and recently adopted mHRDD obligations of companies will do little to address the systemic and structural challenges faced by rights holders, including workers in South Asia. As the 4th UN South Asia Forum on Business and Human Rights is placing workers at the centre of attention, this session seeks to explore the structural barriers faced by workers in enjoying their human rights, explore how South Asia can ensure its economies remain resilient in times of transitions and crisis, and discuss what more needs to be done to meaningfully improve the living and working conditions of South Asian workers.
The session aims to provide a brief overview of some of the main trends, challenges and opportunities related to protecting and respecting the rights of workers in South Asian supply chains.
The session will commence with examples of the systemic and structural challenges faced by workers in South Asia, as well as an overview of regulatory drivers putting a spotlight on business-related human rights abuses in global supply chains. Panelists will then reflect on what more can be done to meaningfully improve the living and working conditions of South Asian workers to ensure that South Asia not only retains or expands its place in global supply chains, but also becomes more resilient in respect of just transitions and in times of crisis.
this session seeks to explore the structural barriers faced by workers in enjoying their human rights, explore how South Asia can ensure its economies remain resilient in times of transitions and crisis, and discuss what more needs to be done to meaningfully improve the living and working conditions of South Asian workers.
After the panel discussion, participants are encouraged to ask questions and engage in interactive debates on the themes, challenges and opportunities raised during the session.
Provide a brief overview of recent trends on business and human rights linked to global supply chains
Provide a brief overview of the challenges which businesses and governments will face in the context of business and human rights and supply chains
Explore the systemic and structural challenges faced by workers in South Asia
Debate how different stakeholders can navigate trends and promote business respect for workers’ rights in supply chains
Explore interconnections between the four themes of the Forum, namely Global Supply Chains, Just Transitions, Informal Workers, and Migrant Workers.
What are the main regulatory drivers on business and human rights linked to supply chains, and what challenges do they raise for businesses, governments and workers, especially those in South Asia?
What are the root causes for human rights abuses faced by workers, and what are the structural barriers which prevent workers from enjoying their human rights?
How can different stakeholders better respond to the structural and systemic challenges faced by South Asian workers?
Q&A and discussion between panelists and participants