Disasters like the collapse of the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh in April 2013 have raised awareness of the fact that, in a global economy, we share responsibility for ensuring that labour, social and environmental standards are implemented effectively worldwide.
According to ILO statistics, there are 2.3 million work-related deaths every year, approximately 350,000 of them in accidents at the workplace and around 2 million from work-related diseases. There are 168 million children in child labour, of whom 85 million are in extremely hazardous work. In addition, more than 21 million people are victims of forced labour. The cost of all of this is enormous, in both human and economic terms. Deaths from work-related accidents and diseases alone represent a loss of 4% of the world’s annual GDP.
For this reason, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs launched an initiative together with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. We wanted to put this topic high on the agenda during Germany's G7 Presidency. The aim was to ensure effective compliance with and implementation of international standards along global supply chains.
The two Federal Ministries officially launched their joint initiative at the international G7 stakeholder conference "Promoting decent work worldwide through sustainable supply chains", which was held in Berlin on 10 and 11 March 2015. During this two-day event, high-ranking representatives of governments, companies, the social partners, international organisations and civil society discussed important steps to promote sustainable supply chains. These discussions produced concrete proposals aimed at the producer countries as well as at companies and consumers in the G7 countries. When the G7 heads of state and government met in Elmau, they agreed to make these proposals binding and included them in their leaders' declaration.
Our ministry is particularly active in the following three projects:
- Vision Zero Fund: Prevention and occupational safety and health
Together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), we established a global prevention fund, called the Vision Zero Fund (VZF). The idea behind it is to help producer countries bolster things such as their occupational safety and health regimes or set up effective labour inspectorates. Expertise on and experience with establishing accident insurance schemes can also be provided through the VZF. The fund is a key project of the G7 initiative.
You will find more information in this flyer.
- Complaint mechanisms for workers
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has drawn up the "OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises". These guidelines serve as the basis for corporate social responsibility, including in the area of occupational safety and health. If there is a problem in a producer country, local workers and trade unions can address their complaint to the contact point of the country in which the multinational enterprise has its headquarters. This contact point then initiates a mediation procedure. The plan is to improve these complaint mechanisms, for example through peer reviews during which contact points evaluate the work of other contact points with the aim of learning from one another and advancing the work of the contact points overall.
- Responsible supply chain management
Another project is to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in G7 countries with establishing responsible supply chain management practices. The goal is to arrive at a shared understanding of corporate due diligence. Please click here for more information.
The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is working on the other priorities: Among them are measures designed to enhance consumer transparency. The idea is to enable consumers to take into account compliance with labour, social and environmental standards when making purchases. There are also plans to foster multi-stakeholder alliances in both G7 countries and the producer countries. Such alliances are composed of all stakeholders in production processes, in other words representatives from the private sector, policy-making, civil society and trade unions. A good example is the German "Partnership for Sustainable Textiles". As part of this partnership, producer countries are to benefit from enhanced technical cooperation, helping them with pursuing sustainable export strategies.
Following the G7 summit of heads of state and government, the G7 labour and international development ministers met in Berlin on 12 and 13 October 2015 at the invitation of Federal Minister Nahles and Federal Minister Müller. At their meeting, the ministers fleshed out the results of the Elmau declaration and made further preparations. The outcome of the conference was the " G7 Ministerial Declaration " initiative.