International social standards

G7 to reach agreement on sustainable supply chains

"We must be able to see precisely where a textile product comes from – from the cotton field to the coat hanger," says Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller. With Federal Labour Minister Andrea Nahles, he would like to see agreements reached within the scope of the G7 process, that will enable workers around the world to demand their rights.

In Berlin, Federal Labour Minister Andrea Nahles and Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller opened an international G7 conference to promote decent work worldwide that was attended by representatives of industry, the science and research community, workers’ representatives and non-governmental organisations.

Workers earn 2 euros of the 100 euros the jeans cost

Taking the example of a pair of jeans sold in Berlin for 100 euros, the Federal Development Minister illustrated the injustices in the production and further processes. The seamstresses in Viet Nam or Bangladesh earn only two euros. They earn an hourly wage of 15 cents, which is not even enough for the essentials. That is why regulations are needed on the market, declared Gerd Müller.

Federal Labour Minister Andrea Nahles pointed out that although ILO (International Labour Organization) core labour standards exist, they are not applied in practice in many cases.

Employees must be able to take legal action to enforce their rights

Workers who are exploited in this way do not have enough opportunities to take legal action to enforce their rights, declared Andrea Nahles. This is where measures come in, that Germany would like to develop more around the world in the course of the G7 process. These include minimum environmental and social standards for all products, oil, coffee and textiles alike. The aim is to agree on a charter for sustainable business.

For workers in poor countries complaints and mediation mechanisms should be put in place, or consolidated. A global fund (Vision Zero Fund) is to be launched to ensure enhanced compliance with safety standards. In the G7 states, businesses and organisations are to donate funds in order to set up accident insurance schemes and train fire prevention inspectors.

68 million children around the world work

"Every 15 seconds somebody dies as a result of an accident at work or an occupational disease. 68 million children around the world are forced to work. We must take action here," said Andrea Nahles. Small and medium-sized businesses in rich countries in particular need help to put their supply chains on a sustainable footing. Consumers in rich countries have the purchasing power to determine which products make it to market.

The German government has recently launched a website on quality seals. Consumers can use it to discover whether or not a product complies with environmental and social standards.

The measures proposed by the Federal Development Ministry and the Federal Labour Ministry are laid out in a vision paper.

Education rather than child labour

"Transparency is the key to fair supply chains," confirmed Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Kailash Satyarthi. The complexity of large companies results in the various production processes, including the use of dubious sub-contractors, being intentionally veiled. There must be no place for child labour in supply chains, he demanded.

Education is vitally important in the war on child labour. "If children and young people have a good education, they specifically seek better opportunities and no longer see their future and the future of their families in factories," said Kailash Satyarthi.

Decent work worldwide

To wind up the conference on 11 March, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, ILO Secretary-General Guy Ryder and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría called for enhanced cooperation. Germany, they said, is a trailblazer in terms of labour and social standards. It could do much to push ahead in the interests of the poorest of the poor in the world through the G7 Presidency.

People in poor countries urgently need work with sound labour and social standards and a living wage, said Jim Yong Kim. Reforms to improve working conditions in Bangladesh are one example, declared Guy Ryder. Examples of this sort must become more visible to send a powerful signal to other countries. This conference could be a strong message, said Angel Gurría.

"We accept the mandate emerging from this conference, and we will specify our objectives in more detail," said Andrea Nahles. In particular the basic idea of the "Vision Zero Fund" has been well accepted. At the G7 negotiations in June, Germany will ensure that the proposals are well placed. It is hoped that they can be implemented towards the end of the year.

"This world is one world – and our responsibility," declared Gerd Müller. Industrialised countries must live up to the responsibility they bear for the people of Africa and Asia. In view of the global division of labour there must be a global set of ethics for decent work, including a human rights council for sustainability and a world vision agreement with binding objectives and agreements regarding sustainable business and work.

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