A call for government and procurement professionals to take the lead in addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains was the topic of this month’s Procurement Breakfast Session.
Rebekah Armstrong, from the Human Rights Commission, spoke about the government’s responsibility to protect human rights in business activity.
“Human rights in the supply chain - it simply means caring about people as well as profit,” says Rebekah. “We’re talking about the treatment of workers.”
The responsibility to protect human rights sits with both governments and companies. The New Zealand government has an absolute duty to lead by example, Rebekah says.
When we talk about the supply chain, it is easy to think the problems are just overseas but Rebekah wants us to think again.
Jonathan To, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says worker exploitation is happening in New Zealand in many industries, including cleaning, retail and hospitality.
“We are seeing increased incidences of exploitation in New Zealand businesses, such as workers expected to work excessive hours without breaks or being paid well below the minimum wage if at all,” he says.
“If breaches of employment standards go unchallenged in New Zealand then they will continue to rise. Procurement professionals have an opportunity to lead the way in this space, influencing change through their supply chains,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan and Rebekah suggested a few steps that people can take to identify and tackle labour rights risks in the supply chain.
- Write your own supplier code of conduct. Clearly communicate expectations of behaviour to your suppliers and reaffirm that they are responsible for high standards in their supply chains.
- Map out your supply chain and identify where you think your risks are. Understand what is underneath your primary suppliers, who do they sub-contract to? If you find something you want to know more about, ask for further evidence.
“Exploitation is often at the lower end of the supply chain and hidden from view. Businesses that exploit workers use uncompetitive business models that knock the price down at the expense of workers, quality and the future of New Zealand. Procurement professionals can have a significant effect on motivating New Zealand businesses to take action and raise the bar,” says Jonathan.