Helping our supply chains Build Back Better in the face of COVID-19
Originally published in a blog by Heidi Koester Oliveira, Human Rights Senior Manager at Mars
As the uncertainty of a global pandemic continues, one thing seems clear: Collaboration to Build Back Better is more urgent than ever if everyone working in global supply chains is to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. Nearly one year into the COVID-19 crisis, what are we learning about its impact on people in these supply chains and the actions needed to bolster communities growing and producing raw materials we all depend on?
Women, children and migrant workers face increased risks
The World Bank warns that extreme poverty could rise for the first time in 20 years, with potential for the pandemic to push an additional 150 million people into poverty by 2021. UN Women underscores that women are disproportionately affected globally, with higher risk of losing livelihoods, long-term economic setbacks and increased burden of unpaid care.
As we approach 2021—declared the United Nation’s International Year for Elimination of Child Labor—the International Labor Organization and UNICEF warn that two decades of collective progress against child labor is at risk of disappearing. Nearly 300 global leaders have shared a call to action with the G20, citing a “lost generation”—the more than 300 million children who may never return to school following COVID lockdowns.
And we know that migrant workers are facing increased risk of forced labor amidst erratic border closures and extreme labor shortages in some sectors that can lead to deceptive recruitment or exploitation. Verité the global labor rights nonprofit and our strategic human rights partner, outlines that global supply chains need strong due diligence systems and investment to support stepped up protections for workers.
Asking and acting
At Mars, our response is focused on understanding, taking action, investing, adapting & advocating—with an emphasis on the most vulnerable. Like many, we are adapting as we go. Here’s a look at what we’re trying and learning, across our Thriving People agenda.
Understand: Understanding the changing conditions in communities and factories where we source is an ongoing process. We are looking deeply across key raw material supply chains such as cocoa, palm oil and fish. For example, we’re engaging with suppliers, customers, civil society organizations, workers, farmers and our own Associates to better understand how COVID-19 changes risks to people touched by our business. We’re beginning to see the impact of school closures in sourcing communities, challenges for traditional in-person labor monitoring systems and workers facing financial pressures, as well as the impact of decreased remittances sent home.
Act: We’re testing approaches to remote assessments to understand supplier management systems, risks and participant voice in supply chains, even if physical access to farms, plantations or factories is restricted.
We continue to deploy our Next Generation Supplier program, an enhanced approach to engage direct suppliers as they drive greater positive impact in their workplaces. Even during the challenges of COVID-19, we’re seeing this program—built on a model of longer-term human rights coaching from third party experts—drive change in mindsets and behaviors and support suppliers to identify and act to address key risks. We’re seeing emphasis on stepped up management systems, as well as a focus on suppliers building skills to empower women in their workplace.
We recently launched Full Potential, the Mars platform for action on gender equity across our workplaces, sourcing communities and the marketplace. We are laying this foundation with expert partners to support women reaching their Full Potential, even in the face of COVID-19. For example, in our own operations, we’re committed to equal pay and expanding flexible work options beyond the pandemic. In sourcing communities, we’ve invested an additional $10 million with CARE to bolster women’s access to savings and loans groups in cocoa communities of West Africa. And in the marketplace, we’re reviewing our adverts annually to analyze and address gender stereotypes.
Invest: As part of an initial $20 million global philanthropic response, we’ve focused $5 million to support our partner, CARE, in impacted communities across our supply chains. CARE is providing emergency supplies, bolstering community leaders with training and awareness-raising resources, distributing cash transfers and catalyzing resilience efforts with a focus on women and children in mint growing communities of India, cocoa-farming regions of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire and migrant workers in the seafood sector of Thailand.
Adapt & Advocate: Looking at our own procurement practices and strategies, we’re asking: How can we buy better, in a way that reflects improved conditions for people across supply chains and our role in working with suppliers to drive improvements? Are there purchasing behaviors to change, based on how they may now impact workers? We’re advocating for increased access to personal protective equipment for farmworkers and supporting stepped up human rights due diligence requirements that can drive longer-term, sustained improvements with global impact beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
Women, children and migrant workers were already vulnerable to inequality, poverty and human rights risks. It’s clear they face more risk against a backdrop of growing economic, health and social pressures. As we look toward an end of the global pandemic, it’s time for the beginning of bolder collaboration with business, governments and civil society to Build Back Better, with an inclusive focus on the most vulnerable.