Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Roundtable: what should supply chain governance look like?

Supply chains are notoriously difficult for many workers. How can this change? Does one legal size fits all? What structural changes might be necessary?

26 June 2016


Ainhoa Barrenechea

Ainhoa Barrenechea is a legal officer for Focus on Labour Exploitation, a UK charity that works to end human trafficking for labour exploitation.


Any model for effective supply chain governance should seek to shift the cost-benefit balance driving exploitative business and employment practices through a combination of national and transnational accountability mechanisms. Mandatory legal mechanisms for transparency in supply chains should be developed and enforced to give visibility and clarity to the actions, relationships, and obligations of the different actors involved in complex supply chains. Corporate accountability should be strengthened at the national and international levels, and human rights due diligence should be mandated by national legislation across the supply chain.

Adequate labour standards should be adopted and vigorously enforced at the local level through a combination of labour inspection and a process of worker organisation and empowerment. Supply chain governance mechanisms should not only define the obligations of employers, but should also recognise and engage workers in GSCs as right bearers.


COLSIBA is the Coordinating Body of Latin American Banana and Agro-industrial Trade Unions.


Unions, together with our allies, insist on the need to put an end to the ‘race to the bottom’. As a step towards this end, and to improve balance in supply chain relations, we consider it necessary that supermarkets contribute significantly to the solution. They need to promote an increase in banana prices so that workers can access a living wage. This can be a achieved if we develop a monitoring tool to ensure that the price increase is reflected in collective contracts, in which there are unions negotiating for better working conditions, where they currently do not exist. These workers must have the freedom to organise and to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. This monitoring system can be tripartite between supermarkets, workers and businesses, incentivising companies that comply with the rights of workers by securing for them better prices in the supermarkets.

Edwin Cisco

Edwin Cisco, vice-president, Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL), a partner of the International Labor Rights Forum.


Supply chains can be improved by ensuring that the companies selling the end product are held accountable for abuses and violations of basic workers’ rights all along the supply chain. Top-tier firms should be made to ensure that all facilities within their supply chains maintain the same standards as those set for primary facilities. In this regard, it is worth nothing that many of the companies at the top of the chain and who benefit most (in value terms) actually hold monopoly status over the end product, so identifying them and holding them accountable should not be difficult.

Kevin Hyland

Kevin Hyland is the UK’s first independent anti-slavery commissioner.


First of all, global supply chain governance cannot have a global one size fits all solution. Governance programmes need to be tailored to the particular risks of different countries and regions, sectors and business partners. Just as with other forms of trafficking and slavery, vulnerabilities to forced labour arise out of a number of different factors, from precarious immigration status to the socio-political, economic and geographical particularities of a region. The reason that Bangladesh, Haiti and Cambodia, for example, are growing factory hubs is not related to an abundance of natural resources. Rather, it is related to the fact that these countries are coming out of civil wars and are home to an impoverished labour force. In regions with low levels of stability and scarce job opportunities, workers end up having to take whatever job they can in order to survive. This limited choice makes these workers vulnerable to insecure and exploitative work conditions, including forced labour. Slave drivers are often then ready to exploit that vulnerability situation for profit.

Sudhir Katiyar

Sudhir Katiyar is project director at Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action (India), a partner of the International Labor Rights Forum.


Labour standards need to be monitored right along the length of the supply chain, not just with the immediate supplier. There is also currently no global uniformity on labour standards. Each country has its own standards, and often the standards are set at very low levels, as is the case with India. Global supply chains should strive to develop a minimum standard that should be applicable universally.

Tola Moeun

Tola Moeunis head of Central, the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, Cambodia


Firstly, through increased transparency. Brands need to disclose their supply lists, factories, parent companies, everything, and they need to be clear in their business agreements with their suppliers. Second, the brands need to apply their codes of conduct seriously in terms of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Short-term contracts, if we look at the ILO guidelines, should only be used for two kinds of work: substitutional and seasonal work. So brands need to commit themselves to eliminating the use of these contracts. And brands need to respond effectively to any form of discrimination against union rights. There should be consistent communication between consumers and workers. 

Sarah Labowitz


Sarah Labowitz Sarah Labowitz is a research scholar on business and human rights at NYU Stern School of Business.

There is a need for a common approach to governance of company supply chains that applies throughout each industry. This means the development and implementation of clear industry standards that apply to large multinational companies, as well as the suppliers that comprise their supply chains. The evaluation of accountability to such standards should come from an independent entity, and not be based on each comny’s self-assessment alone.


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