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Supply Chains, Human Rights & Businesses

Strategic Dialogue

Programming Sponsor: Rubicon



  • The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical role of the business community in ensuring respect for human rights. Under the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, businesses have a duty to ensure the wellbeing of the people impacted by the corporate activity. These efforts also help build resilience to crises and prevent disruptions in supply chains.
  • With supply chains shifting in terms of trade and health, Anbinh Phan ignited the conversation in hopes of looking at building health and safety as we continue to fight the coronavirus. Concerned that the world is going to flip backwards, Cherie Blair discussed the vulnerability that women and other minorities face as the pandemic is prolonged. Already-disadvantaged groups fall further into poverty, threatening any progress that has been achieved leading up to this point and delaying future successes. As highlighted by Blair, ultimately this is not all about companies, but also governments. With some governments taking protections away from workers, fairness in law is necessary. 

“Something we need to work on as a global community is the concept of the digital divide,” Anbinh Phan

  • Elaborating on communities of vulnerable workers, Ian Spaulding explained the rising issue of workers’ rights, as social distancing and virtual connectivity has encouraged less awareness and on-site visitations. As we continue to navigate life through a pandemic, greater awareness and follow-up needs to remain a priority in order to ensure those that are on the front lines are receiving just treatment. 
  • It is also vital to recognize that those who are working on the front lines are most susceptible to COVID-19 and oftentimes receive the poorest care, resulting in greater debts. Steve Brunn highlighted the ways in which Winrock International seeks to address these issues. 
  • With issues such as forced labor becoming harder to detect and thus address, Lisa Manley stated that all companies and organizations must maintain a strong understanding of their supply chains, in order to protect those that are most vulnerable. Genevieve Taft-Vazquez shared The Coca-Cola Company’s efforts to protect its workforce through PPE and cleaning. 

“Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable in terms of global supply chains, because they may be facing discrimination, they may be receiving a lack of information due to language or cultural barriers, they may be facing travel restrictions […] We’re going to be seeing huge ripple effects for some time to come,” Genevieve Taft-Vazquez

  • Taft-Vazquez and Spaulding emphasized the need to have all sectors involved in determining fair policies. According to Phan, an important aspect of partnership is working on social justice issues. Partnership is critical to bringing best practices to scale and allowing for a greater movement to occur.

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Maintaining strong relationships and connectivity with supply chains is critical to ensuring that workers’ rights are upheld. 
  • In the immediate term, businesses worldwide need to be prepared to prevent increased risks of human trafficking, forced labor, and other human rights abuses that are growing across their operations and supply chains due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, as well as to support workers so that they do not become susceptible to such circumstances.
  • In the medium term, businesses will need to create more transparent supply chains, seeking visibility all the way down to the farm and production level, and to be selective of suppliers that are able and willing to meet international labor standards. Partnerships with government and civil society groups are key to transparency and execution.
  • Winrock International, in partnership with ELEVATE and Diginex and funded by the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, is launching a platform to support transparency and accountability in the workforce recruitment process, with a focus on Bangladesh and recruiting countries in the Persian Gulf region.
  • In the long term, businesses need to move beyond compliance, working towards partnering with suppliers and other partners that create high-quality employment opportunities that support peoples’ livelihoods, rather than just basic needs.


Session Speakers