Hubertus Heil and Svenja Schulze visiting a waste disposal site for old clothes in Accra, Ghana.
On the 20th of February, the "World Day of Social Justice", Federal Development Minister Svenja Schulze and Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil are starting their journey to visit some of the people whose work comes at the start of global supply chains. Their trip will take them first to Ghana and then to Côte d'Ivoire from Wednesday to Friday. The new Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Gilbert Houngbo, will be accompanying the two ministers. Together they will get to see first-hand how the implementation of new supply chain regulations can lead to better conditions for workers and the environment at the start of global supply chains.
In addition to numerous meetings with government officials and representatives of the social partners, Schulze and Heil plan to visit projects that will give a clear picture of how things are in supply chains using textiles and cocoa as examples.
Global supply chains link us, in Europe, with the people of the Global South. Our production and consumption patterns have a great impact on working and living conditions in other parts of the world. We in Germany share the responsibility to ensure that human rights and environmental standards are respected at all stages of the supply chain. The important thing when introducing these new regulations is to ensure that they help those they were designed for: the people at the start of the supply chain, many of them women and children. That means we need to provide strong support for the process through our development policy so that all stakeholders can make preparations and take advantage of the opportunities that fair supply chains offer them. And it also means being prepared to listen and to look for solutions together. Because we are all working towards the same goal: decent work from which people can earn enough to live on.
Germany benefits more than almost any other country in the world from a globalised economy that is based on the division of labour. Our prosperity and the jobs in our country are secured by this system. However, this also means that we have a special responsibility: for human rights, for decent working conditions around the world, and for globalisation, which we want to ensure is fair and in line with human rights standards. If you do business around the world, if you make profits around the world, you have to take responsibility around the world. We are making this principle of responsibility legally binding with our German Supply Chain Act and are also working to ensure that supply chain legislation is introduced at EU level soon. Through these efforts, we are making improvements for many people in supply chains from start to finish.
In Ghana's capital Accra the ministers will visit different parts of textile supply chains on Tuesday and Wednesday: a textile factory that also exports to Europe; one of the largest second-hand textile markets in the world, where second-hand clothes from China, North America and Europe are traded; and a place where many tonnes of textile waste that cannot be reused end up.
In Côte d'Ivoire, the cocoa supply chain will be the focus of talks with policy makers and also of the visits to projects: The ministers will visit a plantation and a cocoa cooperative there.
The fact that the trip is being undertaken together with the Director-General of the ILO demonstrates how closely Germany's Federal Government is aligned with this important organisation, its work and its goals. The struggle against the exploitation of labour and the environment only has a chance of success if national and multinational actors work together. The guiding principles of this struggle are the ILO's core labour standards. Compliance with these standards represents a key contribution to ensuring decent work. This involves combating and prohibiting child labour and forced labour, the promotion of occupational safety and compliance with rules in the field, the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the prohibition against discrimination in respect to employment and occupations.
Three different regulations concerning supply chains will play a role in the talks with policy makers:
- First of all, Germany's Act on Corporate Due Diligence in Supply Chains, which came into force on 1 January 2023: The act regulates compliance with international standards concerning human rights and the environment in supply chains, such as the prohibition against child and forced labour. Here, it is crucial for companies to work together with their suppliers towards compliance with human rights and environmental standards rather than withdrawing from risky markets. Germany's Federal Government provides a range of support measures to help companies and their local partners implement the requirements so that they can make an effective contribution to improving the living and working conditions of local people.
- Second, there is the EU's supply chain directive, which is currently being negotiated at European level: By 1 December 2022, EU member states had specified their negotiating positions on the directive. Germany's Federal Government supported the decision and will actively participate in further negotiations in Brussels to ensure that the EU's supply chain directive is adopted by the end of the year. Among other considerations, the principle of "staying and helping is better than cutting and running" needs to be more firmly established. That means that companies are encouraged not to withdraw from regions with weak standards, but to work with their local suppliers to minimise risks. Bolstering the rights of victims is also crucial, in particular through effective access to legal remedy.
- Third, the EU's regulation for deforestation-free supply chains, which has already been successfully negotiated: The regulation stipulates that raw materials and products can only be brought to market in the EU if they were produced without deforestation or forest degradation and in accordance with the laws of the country of origin. The scope of the regulation includes soy, palm oil, cattle, coffee, cocoa, rubber and wood, as well as products containing or made from these raw materials. The regulation is expected to be in force from the end of 2024. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is committed to helping smallholder farmers comply with the law and reap even greater benefits from forest conservation.
Ghana is one of the largest net importers of used textiles and Germany is one of the largest exporters. However, about 40 percent of the goods (15 million garments per week) are unsuitable for resale. These are usually discarded as waste as soon as they arrive, being then dumped beside rivers or on beaches or burned. Finding socially and environmentally acceptable recycling options and new material cycles in Ghana is also a task for development policy, in addition to regulating textile products at EU level. With Germany’s support, Ghana is also fostering an emerging textile production sector with good working conditions in the international fashion industry.
Côte d'Ivoire is the world's largest cocoa producer, and 60 percent of the cocoa Germany imports comes from there. One in three Ivorians works in cocoa farming, but a large proportion of them live in poverty. Child labour is widespread in the sector. Cocoa cultivation is also an important cause of deforestation in the country. Within the last 60 years, more than 80 percent of the country’s forest area has been lost. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is promoting socially fair and ecologically sustainable cocoa production in Côte d'Ivoire. This helps to combat poverty and hunger, to improve incomes and wages and to promote nature conservation. There are also plans to help the country and stakeholders in the cocoa supply chain in complying with the new German and European supply chain regulations.
In Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, between 80 and 90 percent of workers labour in informal employment with low wages and precarious working conditions, mainly young people. Child labour is also widespread. About 20 percent of children aged 5-17 are affected in the two countries. To remedy this, Germany, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and 23 other countries from around the world, are engaged as Pathfinder Countries in the Alliance 8.7, which is supported by the International Labour Organization (ILO). This alliance, to which belong the ILO, the partner countries, non-governmental organisations and the social partners, combats forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour around the world.