Buyers can help improve vendor labour standards, says Oxfam

19 May 2010

19 May 2010 | Andrea Klettner

Purchasers should help suppliers improve weak relations between management and workers and reward better vendors with more business, longer-terms contracts and fewer audits, Oxfam has said.

Those are just two recommendations contained in a report out this week from the charity called Better jobs in better supply chains.

The publication, which is aimed at senior managers and heads of sustainability who source goods internationally, says purchasing practices undermine labour standards and it is therefore key to get them right.

It suggests businesses analyse the prevalence of “precarious work, poverty wages and extreme working hours, identify their root causes and quantify their costs to the supply chain”. They should also help suppliers develop HR management skills and processes and should encourage them to develop relationships with trade unions, it said.

Oxfam said in a statement: “There is a lot of common ground between the approach of an effective purchasing professional and the best practice approach advocated here.”

The report features case studies from multinational companies such as Marks & Spencer and Adidas who have tackled the root causes of poor standards.

The publication includes a tool to help companies benchmark their work against a set of emerging issues, and a list of resources. The charity wants to hear about other initiatives, which it will collate and publish on its website later this year.

Oxfam has also set up workshops advising purchasers on ethical trade in global supply chains. The quarterly events will address key labour issues and help participants consider how these can be applied to their own product or service supply chains. The next workshop is on 30 June, followed by another in September, at the charity’s headquarters in Oxford.

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