Corona, supply chains, India and the SDGs

The CoronaVirus is a health and economic challenge all organisations, business, families and communities are facing. 

Whilst it may be challenging for many in the west not used to self-isolating at home rather than socialising in cafes, restaurants, offices and gyms, and our health services may face the challenges Italy is currently facing, far greater challenges may be faced by global suppliers and their workforces of some of the most vulnerable populations. 

We rely on workers around the world to make our things and keep our businesses stocked, and therefore, have a responsible business moral, and under new laws, legal obligation to use our influence to support human rights, and to sickpay and healthcare for these people.

Many companies committed in recent years to supporting delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, commonly known as “the SDGs”.

These 17 Goals include SDG1 to realise the goal of SDG1 No Poverty, SDG2 of Zero Hunger and SDG3 of Good Health and WellBeing. No matter how defined, we are still some way from realising delivery of these goals, and without attention now, we may take backward steps. Whilst companies are working out how to care for their own employees, or onsite staff, such as Google announcing a fund to pay sickpay for contract employees who would otherwise be entitled, companies will also need to consider their Ethical Trade role in helping suppliers support the health of the people in their supply chains #WhoMakeOurThings.

The SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals)

Our SupplyESChange team includes experienced supply chain Social standards professionals who have visited numerous supply chain production sites on the ground in India, China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and more.  Even in recent years, when we or experts we manage are able to properly social audit sites, we far too often still find the same poor working conditions that charities and non-profit advocates continue to report on. We still find workers sometimes without contracts, or even when contracted, not being paid the legally due social insurance which would provide access to sickpay and healthcare.

In India, we have far too often still seen child labour across various industries and Provinces even for sites managed by large, listed, growing conglomerate companies who have “CSR” (Corporate Social Responsibility) programmes. We have seen minimum wage not paid to  workers and safety issues that in this day and age, 2020, should no longer be seen.

To support responsible sourcing and deliver more sustainable supply chains we have conducted capacity building, or advised firms on their responsible sourcing programmes strategy, or investors on understanding these issues to better inform their ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Investing. Capacity building involves training in productivity to reduce excessive overtime and accidents and helps factory managers understand and learn to track productivity and profitability benefits from training and treating workers well.

Just this week our senior Indian consultant Mr Ajay Datt was asked by a responsible Indian Garments manufacturer with over 10 production sites in an Indian province to conduct surveys on worker awareness regarding Corona Virus, hygiene practises needed, and whether workers might be wishing they could return to their home villages for their personal health safety and/or to be with family in need of support. This company had already made provisions to check the temperature of each employee at each factory. 

At SupplyESChange we have spent our career helping suppliers, brand buyers, and their investors understand these sorts of good practises, and how they can be implemented and social impacts tracked. In this case a positive outcome so far from the survey has been in discovering  a high awareness amongst workers of health safety steps needed to manage corona virus risks and measures taken at factory level. We hope the insights from the worker survey can also inform the business decision making in responding to the corona virus crisis.

In this time of CoronaVirus, for companies committed to ensuring respect for human rights in their supply chains and delivering on the SDGs, we encourage companies to learn from experienced professionals how to assess supplier working conditions more robustly to do business human rights due diligence. This could be ensuring that the most vulnerable workers might receive paid time off if it is needed or medical care support when needed and possible, and/or capacity building training (perhaps webinars) so that suppliers might understand the productivity benefits later in 2020 of supporting their workforce health and well-being now. Where possible robust baselines from phone based surveys like these, assessments and later follow-ups may help show SDGs social impacts results from such efforts in coming months.

With recently passed new EU regulations, Investor monitoring of company ESG (Environmental Social Governance) efforts will not go away and will regrow after the crisis, and more attention may be paid to how companies ensure healthcare in their supply chains.

This article was written by Kate Larsen, Director SupplyESChange Ltd UK and Mr Ajay Datt a Senior Associate Advisor based in Dhaka, India.

Contact us in SupplyESChange to speak (by zoom, skype, or other webinar) with our UK and/or senior India, Bangladesh, or Cambodian team experts about steps your business can take to do the right thing, and help slow the spread to protect all our health.

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