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Sedex highlights the need for improved purchasing practices and greater visibility of gender in supply chains at UN Virtual Forum

This month the United Nations (UN) held its annual forum on Responsible Business and Human Rights (Asia and the Pacific). Sedex CEO Simon McCalla and Director of Responsible Sourcing Magali Martowicz were invited to speak as panellists, to discuss critical responsible business issues against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN and the International Labour Organization (ILO) state that “the current crisis shows how much economies and labour markets depend on each other”[1], making clearer more than ever the need for safe and healthy workforces. As businesses recover from this pandemic, they must support their supply chain and all the workers within it to build resilience – and all have a role to play in the realisation of decent work.

Watch the panel sessions on YouTube (click here for Simon McCalla’s session and here for Magali Martowicz’s).

Simon McCalla highlights: Traceability and visibility of gender in supply chains is paramount

Simon joined representatives from the ILO, Bangladesh Employers Federation, Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Federation of Free Workers in the Philippines and business consultancy to discuss the role of data in traceability. The panel had a particular focus on enabling visibility of women in supply chains and promoting decent work.

Simon highlighted that gathering data on every element of supply chains is more crucial than ever. Data brings visibility to issues within supply chains, allowing us to understand the scale of them and guiding us on where to focus remediation efforts. In the current context of COVID-19 and when facing crises in future, data helps us to understand how workers might be or have been impacted and where support will be most needed.

The importance of traceability also goes beyond protecting workers. Businesses are increasingly pressured to commit to and demonstrate progress in sustainable trading, ethical practices and common issues such as gender equality. Only with data on their entire value chain can a business meet these expectations and understand where to focus improvement efforts.

Women are a vulnerable worker demographic – there is a need for greater visibility of gender across global supply chains, in general and specifically to understand how gender relates to the impact of a crisis such as this pandemic.

Across the globe women earn less than men, hold less secure jobs and spend more hours on unpaid domestic care work; they are thus less able to absorb economic shock. 75% of women in developing regions are in the informal economy, where they are less likely to have employment contracts, legal rights and social protection.

In 2019 Sedex set up a Gender Working Group to address the need for increased data in this area. As a result, Sedex assessment tools now feature additional data collection points on female workers and issues relating to gender. A risk assessment tool, which Sedex will launch imminently, includes a Vulnerable Worker Analysis report specifically on women, highlighting country and sector risks.

As businesses, societies and economies around the world begin the long process of recovering from COVID-19, there is an opportunity to build back better – with data guiding decision-making on recovery measures that also facilitate robust supply chains in the long-term. Such measures could create lasting changes that positively affect female workers and support more equal, inclusive work environments.

Magali Martowicz highlights: The need for improved purchasing practices and immediate action to protect workers from the impacts of COVID-19

Sedex’s Director of Responsible Sourcing joined sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) experts from the ILO, amfori and the garments industry to discuss responsible purchasing practices amid COVID-19 and beyond.

Magali highlighted that companies have the greatest impact on supply chains through their purchasing decisions, and can provide significant support during the pandemic and in future through their practices.

Businesses need to pay suppliers fairly and implement good purchasing practices if they are able to survive. They must ensure their workforce is safe and employed in decent conditions. One key aspect of this, sometimes overlooked, is social security.

The ILO estimates that only 27% of the world’s population has adequate social security coverage and more than half lacks any coverage at all. Only one in five of the global workforce has access to unemployment benefits.

The World Bank estimates that the pandemic will push up to 60 million people into extreme poverty. At particular risk of this are vulnerable groups of workers, where access to social security would be a significant support:

  • Women – who have been disproportionately impacted by job losses
  • Informal workers – those in precarious employment are the first to be laid off or suffer the economic impacts of the pandemic
  • Migrant workers and refugees may be stuck in another country, in poor accommodation or unsafe workplaces, and with no income or ability to travel to the work they depend on.

Those without sick leave have no choice but to continue working; this desperation puts them at even greater risk of exploitation.

Protecting these workers through employment benefits will help to safeguard them during times of crisis, ready for a return to work when circumstances allow. Payment of social insurance and statutory benefits is essential, and businesses must ensure they are done.

This is an interesting time to consider how buying organisations can embed more responsible sourcing practices in their operations. We can see that even in this crisis being responsible pays – there is evidence to suggest that companies with high ESG (environmental, social and governmental) scores are more resilient, better able to weather crises and recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

But it’s not just businesses – collaboration between and among states, employers and other vital stakeholders is absolutely key. These issues are not specific to any one country, employer or person. We must address challenges collaboratively, including all stakeholders and actively considering the most vulnerable groups in our workforce, to create fair recovery and resilience against future crises.