CGF member companies have been long committed to promoting decent working conditions worldwide but recognise that eradication of forced labour remains a key challenge. Global supply chains are complex, and they often involve some of the poorest countries in the world with limited institutional capacity for regulation to protect workers’ rights. The prominence of the informal sector, new trends in mass migration and the covert nature of forced labour continue to generate human rights abuses and lend to the difficulty of battling them.
As a result of these factors, 21 million people still suffer from working circumstances falling under the ILO definition
of forced labour(1)
, an unacceptable situation that the consumer goods industry firmly intends to fight in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International, said, "Successfully fighting forced labour requires collective corporate actions which go beyond traditional compliance approaches. At Anti-Slavery International we are encouraged by the CGF resolution as the first industry commitment of its kind, enabling companies to act collaboratively with each other, with civil society and with governments on the unacceptable issue of forced labour. Industry leaders can only do so much at individual company level, so such a global collaboration and commitment is crucial to helping to eradicate forced labor from value chains".
Taking it Further through Collective Action
Through its global influence, leadership position and convening power, the CGF and its members look forward to driving this global collaboration and thereby addressing forced labour as one of the most pressing social issues of our time.
The Co-Sponsors of the Sustainability Pillar of The Consumer Goods Forum Marc Bolland, Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer plc, and Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, stated, “As part of our wider efforts to promote human rights and decent working conditions worldwide, we acknowledge the broad societal problem of modern slavery and we strive to eradicate forced labour from our value chains. In doing so, we will harness the power of collective action as an industry group to identify and address issues and geographies of shared concern, enhancing the efficiency of any individual company initiatives in this area”.
John Ruggie, Berthold Beitz Professor of International Affairs and International Legal Studies, Harvard University and former UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, said, “I am very encouraged by this important step by the CGF. Forced labour is a global scourge, yet it appears widely in value chains across different industries. No company can eradicate the problem on its own, but a great deal can be accomplished through collective action among them—including increasing the pressure on governments to play their essential role”.
Going Beyond a Traditional Compliance Approach
It is crucial to build on existing industry initiatives to amplify innovations in supply chain sustainability. The work achieved by multiple efforts to support increased harmonisation of supply chain practices will be instrumental in driving this necessary change.
The resolution adopts a tailored approach, and will target a set of key issues in selected geographies and commodities in order to achieve concrete change. This focus on areas of shared concern, to be identified and addressed through the power of collective action, will allow the industry to develop targeted action plans. Further details on this approach will be communicated in the coming months, while consumer goods companies interested in collaborating on the issue of forced labour are welcome to join the CGF’s member-led working groups.
(1) The International Labour Organisation defines forced labour as situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities. This includes forced child labour, forced migrant labour and human trafficking.
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