EESC gives civil society a voice in global trade talks

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The European Economic and Social Committee calls for stakeholder platforms, better informed consumers and stronger social dialogue to ensure decent work in global supply chains.

The Committee has set out how global supply chains (GSCs) can generate growth and employment while, at the same time, they promote international labour standards and decent work. Key recommendations are contained in its opinion adopted on 19 April.

Global supply chains – covering industries ranging from clothing and footwear to electronics and minerals – have become hugely important in streamlining world trade and investment and have drastically changed the international division of labour. This has helped to generate wealth, but also created challenges in terms of achieving decent work for all. It is crucial therefore that the concerns of civil society are heard.

The opinion will feed into the upcoming International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva in June, which brings together governments, employers and workers to discuss how GSCs can be adapted to ensure that economic growth is achieved in a sustainable and inclusive manner.

“As the voice of civil society, the EESC is well placed to propose a fair balance between necessary legal requirements in the field of human and labour rights, transparency, the fight against corruption and the necessary flexibility of multinational enterprises to organise and develop their GSCs in an effective manner suited to the various local situations,” explains Emmanuelle Butaud-Stubbs, EESC rapporteur for this own-initiative opinion.

A functioning and fair supply chain

Broadly speaking, the EESC wants the European Commission to adopt an ambitious and coherent strategy in the area of GSC management and decent work in this setting, through internal activities (such as access to public procurement or labelling) and external policies (such as trade and development). The EESC welcomes the Commission’s willingness to encourage sustainable development in third countries through training support for national social partners. To be more effective, there is a need for coordination and cooperation between the relevant public bodies at the national and international levels, including the EU, the ILO, OECD, the UN bodies and financial institutions.

The Committee would, however, like to see structured, transparent and inclusive stakeholder platforms established and the role of each stakeholder along the supply chain clarified. Practical and suitable risk-based approaches should be developed, that take into account the specific nature of the various global value chains and global supply chains - e.g. in sectors such as electronics, agro-industries or garments and textiles. A new generation of audits should cover not only social but also environmental and governance issues, and should set more ambitious goals.

For consumers, clear information about the social conditions of production should be available. Apps on mobile devices should be promoted to help citizens compare and understand social and environmental product labels.

Finally, the EESC reiterates its support for independent trade unions and employers’ organisations, which play a key role in facilitating both efficient economic performance and the observance of decent work principles. Engaging diverse (public and private) stakeholders in joint initiatives and measures related to responsible supply chain management seems to be the most suitable approach. The portfolio may include legislative and non-legislative measures, promotion and sharing of best practices, access to training and capacity building for social dialogue and other aspects.

To this end, the EESC supports the International Labour Organisation’s ‘Better work programme’, which aims to help local social partners conduct collective bargaining and encourages cross-industry dialogue. All stakeholders must be effectively involved in ensuring that GSCs lead to sustainable, inclusive and dignified work for all.

More info

Own-initiative opinion on ‘Decent work in global supply chains

International Labour Organisation

Commission Communication ‘Trade for all