To address systemic issues, companies should collaborate with external stakeholders such as trade unions, civil society organisations, human rights experts, governments, and sector peers.


Addressing labour practices in supply chains is complex and requires the knowledge and efforts of different stakeholders. Working with civil society organisations or human rights experts can help companies gain in-depth issue knowledge they might not have in-house. To identify solutions for workers, it is key to engage with workers or worker representatives.

Companies do not always have sufficient leverage on their own to change practices at supplier level, and companies often have the same suppliers as their peers, which means combining resources to monitor suppliers and build their capacity can help save costs and increase efficiency through joint standards. Engaging with peers can also help less advanced companies to gain practical insights on how to get started. Labour conditions at farm level are often connected to the underlying social, cultural and economic conditions in sourcing countries, making it important to join with sector peers when engaging policy makers.

Engagement questions

Opening questions

  • In which multi-stakeholder or external partnerships related to social issues in the supply chain is the company involved (e.g. initiatives regarding labour more broadly, or issues such as child labour and human trafficking more specifically; commodity-specific initiatives such as for cashews, cocoa, tea, palm oil or seafood; initiatives with local farmers to improve sustainable practices) and why?

Follow-up questions

  • Is the company actively involved in multi-stakeholder partnerships (e.g. active role, chair, founding/longstanding member) or actively working with relevant stakeholders (e.g. through collaborations between human rights experts, governments, workers, trade unions or other labour organisations)?
  • Does the company collaborate with sector peers (e.g. by engaging governments, providing joint supplier capacity building, participating in sharing data such as supplier names or results of compliance monitoring, etc.)?
  • How transparent is the company about its collaborations with stakeholders?

Company examples

Sectoral collaboration on forced and child labour:

  • Australian retail companies: In December 2015, eight Australian companies, including the food retailers Woolworths, Coles, Inghams, and food manufacturer Goodman Fielder signed a pledge, developed by the Retail and Supplier Roundtable Sustainability Council, to work together and with other stakeholders to address forced labour in their supply chains.
  • Consumer Goods Forum: In January 2016, the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of retailers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders, committed in a Social Sustainability Resolution to develop an action plan to eradicate forced labour through collaboration between retailers and manufacturers, and called on other retail companies to join the initiative.
  • Collaboration regarding conditions in tea production: In 2014, Tesco helped to launch a coalition between UNICEF, The Ethical Tea Partnership and other companies to help prevent child labour and improve protection and opportunities for children in Assam fs tea-producing communities.


Combining resources with peers to improve supplier capabilities: In 2014, six brands including the food and beverage companies Mars, McDonald’s, Nestlé and The Coca-Cola Company partnered with AIM-PROGRESS to host a one-day Responsible Sourcing Forum in India, which was attended by over 300 raw material and packaging material suppliers.


Worker-led collaboration between growers and buyers: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is an example of a worker-led organisation recognised for identifying and bringing about solutions for workers in the tomato industry in the US. Its Fair Food Program is based on a partnership among farm workers, Florida tomato growers, and participating retail buyers, including McDonald fs and Walmart. In addition to audits and a complaints mechanism, unique features include a legally binding agreement with buyers, the suspension of non-participating growers, worker-to-worker education sessions and a premium paid by buyers that is passed on to workers. The programme fs success is based on the mutually beneficial proposition it offers to growers, buyers and workers

  • Growers benefit from becoming an employer of choice, prevent risk and obtain verification for good labour practices, providing them with a competitive advantage.
  • Buyers benefit from increased transparency and decreased risk, both of which provide a competitive advantage given increased consumer demand for more information on working conditions at farm level.
  • Workers have benefited in a number of ways over the course of four years, including the elimination of forced labour, violence and sexual assaults; distribution of US$20 million in premiums paid by buyers and passed on to workers and improvements in health and safety conditions, such as shade in the fields.

Following its success, the programme expanded beyond Florida to other US states, other crops and other sectors, such as dairy and construction. It is also gaining traction internationally, attracting interest from worker organisations and governments in other countries. For an example of a company building strong relationships with unions, see the Case study: Carrefour, creating an ecosystem for lasting change.


How can companies implement those expectations?

This guide provides guidance on why and how to collaborate with sector peers . including opportunities and risks and a partial list of industry initiatives . as well as in multistakeholder partnerships:

  • BSR, UN Global Compact (2015) - Supply Chain Sustainability - A Practical Guide for Continuous Improvement, Second Edition, chapter 7: Industry Collaboration & Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships, p. 59ff.

This guide maps key sustainability issues, main stakeholders as well as gaps or opportunities for collaboration on traceability by commodity:

  • UN Global Compact and BSR (2014) - A Guide to Traceability: A Practical Approach to Advance Sustainability in Global Supply Chains, Annex: Traceability by Commodity: Gaps and opportunities for collaboration, p. 32-41.

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    From poor working conditions to forced labour - what's hidden in your portfolio?

    June 2016

From poor working conditions to forced labour - what's hidden in your portfolio?