Human Rights Challenges Case Study
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Human Rights Challenges Case Study
Although human rights challenges are many and numerous, attention of stakeholders and the media over recent years have concentrated on various forms of abuses that are commonly found deep down the supply chains of many companies. The situation of abuses in primary industries and often difficult to access locations makes it difficult for the private sector to use traditional auditing techniques to tackle such risks. The challenges are nevertheless serious and have a clear reputational impact for large brands but also impact on the security of a value chain when discovered by regulatory authorities or uncovered by the media. There are therefore very good reasons why companies should engage with such issues, including protecting their brand and reputation and ensuring the efficiency and competitiveness of their value chains
Most large companies interviewed saw one of the biggest challenges facing them being the extent of their value chains. For example, a single first tier manufacturer, assembling a company’s product, may have hundreds of second tier subordinate business relationships, and the deeper supply chain may comprise thousands of businesses spread across multiple countries. One company in the retail sector gave cotton as a good example. If the company traces its supply chain to each individual farm that grows the cotton, which eventually finds its way into their products, they are looking at examining tens of thousands of relationships. Each farmer and his family members and his workers are rights holders, linked to their global value chain and making it difficult to monitor everyone. The same company also concluded that there is a need to promote consolidation and increase the “verticalisation” of value chains, where all tiers are under the management and control of a single, accountable, provider. But such a move is both challenging and potentially costly. For brands, it is a question of finding the resources: Deploying available manpower and funds in the most efficient and effective way, to create a net positive benefit, and one that delivers the necessary safeguards for human rights. Other companies noted that a general lack of understanding and information of the complexity of human rights issues within their industry is also a challenge. Few companies have the necessary resources, knowledge or expertise to engage with complex issues. One company noted a need to conduct its own research to understand the issues and associated risks better, but again advocated international standards that would give the whole industry more certainty and provide for a level playing field. Such an approach is not easy however. For example, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) both have conventions regarding human rights, but so far, they have only been ratified by three countries.
To see real change companies, need to continue to engage with stakeholders, including, in particular, government and credible civil society organisations. In turn there needs to be engagement with vulnerable and marginalised communities that are often at risk of human rights abuses. Only through such engagement can the full extent of risks (real or potential) be uncovered. But many in the private sector believe that internal stakeholders are also important ©Better Cotton Initiative 14 and that first and foremost there is a need to raise awareness with business decision-makers, internally. Managers need to understand the risks to business and understand the importance of mapping human rights risks along global value chains. This will need to be done by industry and by location but will require increased commitment to find the resources to address the issues.