Ethical Trading chief warns of growing pressure on buyers

11 October 2012

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11 October 2012 | Anna Reynolds

New chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Suzanne McCarthy has warned of increasing pressure on buyers to understand their global supply chain, at a time when workers feel disconnected from their role in it.

Speaking exclusively to SM, McCarthy explained the three-year strategy the ETI has entered into to drive collaboration between businesses, NGOs and trade unions. A year into the strategy, McCarthy said: “It’s important we understand the route causes of exploitation in global supply chains, so that we can apply solutions across different sectors, but we can’t do it alone.”

McCarthy pointed to the recent factory fires in Pakistan and riots in China, both of which she said were “totally preventable and shouldn’t happen again”. She highlighted that workers do not understand their position in the supply chain. “We are living in an era where workers are isolated and unaware of what’s going on,” she said.

“There is becoming an increased expectation on UK businesses to understand their international supply chains in as much depth as they do their UK suppliers. They must ensure that working standards overseas are the same as they would expect in the UK.”

McCarthy, who took over from previous chair Alan Roberts in September, said the ETI is working with its members to uphold the UN framework that sets a global standard for businesses addressing human rights issues. “These principles have huge implications for buyers – they need to realise what impact they have on working conditions,” she added.

But there is a lot of work to be done: “It’s an exciting phase for the ETI, we are moving towards becoming a leader in this area, but we want to bring in more suppliers from the UK and outside. We have to be sensitive to different environments – there is no blue-print for all; each project is different.”

McCarthy will hold the ETI position alongside her other role as the UK’s immigration services commissioner. She was previously CEO of the UK’s Financial Services Compensation Scheme, and she is also on the board of the General Medical Council and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Asked about the experience she will bring to the ETI, McCarthy said: “The theme of my career has been protection of the most vulnerable and at ETI I will be focusing on consumer protection. While I have an understanding of all these sectors I am not directly part of them, which gives me an objectivity.”

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