G7 Ministers agree to set up a Fund for workplace safety and commit to step up enforcement of OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises

photo: Photo: Deutsche Bundesregierung

Trade unions have welcomed some of the practical steps taken by the G7 Employment and Development Ministers at their meeting in Berlin on 12-13 October to implement the G7 Leaders Summit commitment from June to work towards ensuring “responsible supply chains.”

The G7 Summit was moved to action in the wake of appalling industrial accidents in supply chains such as the collapse of the Raina Plaza garment factory in 2013, which had cost more than 1200 workers’ lives. Speaking at the meeting, TUAC General Secretary John Evans said “sectors such as the textile and garment industry sell 21st century products and brands, but too often under 19th century working conditions and factory safety – G7 governments have to ensure that doesn’t continue.”

The Ministers adopted declaration that agreed to set up a multi-donor “Vision Zero Fund” (VZF)“ with the aim of reducing and preventing the number of workplace related deaths, serious injuries and diseases in global supply chains.” It will support and be complementary to initiatives such as the Rana Plaza “Accord” singed between union, brands and NGOs in the wake of the tragedy. At the meeting the European Union, United States as well as Germany committed to provide seed money for the VZF. Elke Hannack, Vice-president of the German Trade Union Confederation – the DGB told the meeting “The success of the VZF depends on the widest possible participation- it has to involve workers and their representatives in their workplaces and has to support key human rights – the right to form and join trade unions and to participate in and be consulted on decisions that involve their health and safety – that is absent in many parts of global supply chains.” The Fund, which will start operating in January 2016, will be administered by the International Labour Organisation with tripartite oversight.

Following up the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which establish an expanded concept of "due diligence" as a fundamental expectation of responsible business behaviour, the Ministers also agreed to develop a “common understanding” on due diligence and “responsible supply chain management.” However, as Hannack told the meeting “Voluntary corporate social responsibility has failed – it is clear that they are not enough.” Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, commenting on the Ministerial declaration said “Other G7 countries should follow France’s lead and bring forward legislation that makes corporate “due diligence” for human rights mandatory.”

The Ministers also discussed how to strengthen the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises and follow up the Leaders’ Summit commitment to “lead by example” and ensure that their own countries’ National Contact Points (NCPs) for handling the Guidelines are effective. They agreed to complete “peer reviews” for the Guidelines by 2018.

Meanwhile, a joint statement by TUAC, BIAC and NGO’s through OECD Watch called on the OECD to provide the necessary resources to fund this and on governments to adequately staff and equip their NCPs.

Evans said “the G7 Ministers have agreed some practical measure that if delivered on could make a real positive difference to workers lives, but both they and businesses now have to put them into practice.”