Human rights reporting vital to ending injustices in global supply chains

12 May 2016

During the ‘EU Roadmap to Business and Human Rights Conference’ on 11 May 2016, Maddalena Neglia – Fairfood International’s Business and Human Rights specialist – gave a presentation on Human Rights Reporting. Fairfood wanted to remind the audience that human rights reporting should not only be a ‘fashionable’ topic discussed among and by companies, but a way to concretely improve the situation of people working in the global supply chain and to integrate respect for human rights into corporate culture and behaviour.

Human rights abuses in Morocco’s booming tomato sector

Fairfood shared its experiences in Morocco for this occasion. Morocco, and in particular the Sous Massa Region in the west rural part of the country, is a major exporter of tomatoes (the country’s largest agricultural export), which are sold in main EU supermarkets, including the biggest Dutch supermarkets.

We looked more closely at the production of this commodity and we found that the freedom of association is not always respected, wages are low (a worker earns 5 euros per day for 12 hours of work) and working conditions are sometimes unsafe (especially unsafe transport to work). Moreover, 92% of the workers in the Moroccan agricultural sector are women and they do not receive any childcare support from the employers and are left to their own devices if they get pregnant. You can find more details about the Tomato project on our website.

The need for a collaborative approach to creating fairer supply chains

We tried to find a shared solution to those issues by initiating a dialogue among the different stakeholders involved: local unions in the agricultural sector, local authorities, workers, local NGOs, academia and industries, as well as European companies and consumers. After the first challenging months, the response of local stakeholders to this initiative was enthusiastic and very promising: a major agricultural union, local producers and local authorities agreed to sit together and to enter into a dialogue in order to find shared solutions for the future. Wages increased and working conditions were improved by local producers, which was also due to the increased negotiating capacity of the union.

However, little information was available on the sourcing practices of global companies and, unfortunately they were reluctant to participate in this process.

This example demonstrates the importance of the collaborative approach among stakeholders as the only way to achieved shared and sustainable solutions on the ground. However, it also tells us how difficult it is to fully achieve it in practice.

Action not box ticking

For this reason, Fairfood argued that the issue of Human Rights reporting should be used as an opportunity to start a genuine process that helps global companies to understand complex problems in their supply chain and that facilitates the dialogue among different stakeholders already at an early stage. Only if reporting is realized through such a process, and does not end in a mere box ticking exercise, can social value be created at local level.

Given this direction, we are aware that lots of questions are still open. For example, to what extent could and should both national and European legislations foster this type of reporting as a process, and how can we do this without creating counterproductive multiplication of reporting requirements?

The session partially contributed to addressing those issues.

We hope that this is the first step towards shared future engagement among companies, policy makers and civil society organisations, ultimately leading to the endorsement of human rights reporting as a way of changing and improving workers’ lives.