The fifth Forum for the Future on 'Making globalisation fair', was held on 20 February, at the German Development Ministry. It focused on corporate responsibility for sustainable supply chains. Following an opening speech by Development Minister Gerd Müller, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil delivered a keynote address on social standards in global supply chains. The two ministers were then joined by Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, President of Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service, and Patrick Zahn, CEO of KiK Textilien, for a panel discussion on corporate responsibility in global supply chains. The Forum was closed by the German Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr Bärbel Kofler.
Prior to the conference, Development Minister Müller stated: “Many of the products we use in our daily lives come from developing countries – coffee, cocoa and cotton. Our mobile phones and computers only work thanks to cobalt from Africa. But conditions at the beginning of the supply chains are still unspeakable: more than 150 million children worldwide have to work – nearly one in ten children. Forced labour conditions and starvation wages are very common in many places. We have to work towards finally eradicating these terrible conditions.
At the beginning of global supply chains, minimum environmental and social standards must be met that in Europe have been established practice for a long time. Enterprises, too, have a responsibility in this regard. Many companies are already moving forward in this field. However, all German enterprises must meet their human rights due diligence obligations. Within the German government, we all agree on this. That is why we are working for the systematic implementation of Germany's National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights.
If, upon monitoring its implementation, we find that enterprises' voluntary commitments are not enough, we will establish corporate obligations by law, as has been laid down in our coalition agreement. If necessary, this will be a national law, but preferably it will be regulation at the European level. That is why we will continue to move forward with the establishment of regulations governing due diligence during Germany's EU Presidency in 2020, because every person has a right to a life of dignity.”
German Labour Minister Heil stated: “Enterprises, the two sides of industry, civil society and the government – we all have a responsibility. And so do consumers, of course, as they make their purchasing decisions.
Only by joining forces will we be able to make the world more socially just and ensure that child labour, human trafficking and forced labour are curbed. Enterprises, too, have a responsibility to which they must live up, no matter where they source their products. The vital point is to clearly define the general conditions governing global business activities.
Above all, I am advocating for uniform regulations throughout Europe. We must not allow the emergence of a patchwork of different legal provisions in European countries. That is why I will make this topic a priority item on the agenda of Germany's EU Presidency in 2020.”
The United Nations has established obligations both for governments and for enterprises with regard to global compliance with fundamental environmental and social standards – through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the ILO core labour standards. It is the task of governments to protect these rights and norms, and it is the task of enterprises to respect them, regardless of their size and their position in the supply chain.
In order to implement the UN Principles, the German government has adopted an ambitious National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights. The government will soon conduct a monitoring exercise to establish the extent to which companies with more than 500 staff are really meeting their due diligence obligations with regard to human rights. The results of the first survey are expected in autumn 2019.