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Standing Up for Human Rights

By Elizabeth Garland, Senior Director for Raw Material Programs, Verité and Heidi Koester Oliveira, global lead for Human Rights in Extended Supply Chains, Mars Incorporated

International Human Rights Day feels more important than ever, and the 2020 focus on Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights is top of mind for all of us in the business and human rights field. Risks to workers are increasing, even as global mobility stagnates. Amidst a global pandemic and its economic, social and health impact, how can we sustain momentum to ensure respect for rights in global supply chains?

Since April 2017, Verité and Mars, Incorporated have been working together to take action in global supply chains, foster new insights and convene dialogue through our long-term, strategic partnership. Through this collaboration, we continue to strengthen three core human rights programs at Mars — Responsible Workplace in Mars’ own operations, Next Generation Supplier in its Tier 1 supplier workplaces, and Next Generation Origin in its extended supply chains. Our partnership continues and, in some ways, has deepened during this year of increased worker vulnerability and decreased visibility of working conditions around the world. 

We keep learning what works – and what doesn’t. We’re building strategies and programs, generating more awareness and capabilities across Mars and with supplier teams, and deepening the discussion of human rights issues. As we all look to Recover Better, here are some of the top insights learned from three years of our work together. 

Engaging Procurement and Supplier Leadership Early and Often Matters. Sustainability is embedded in the Procurement function at Mars, which isn’t the case for all companies. When procurement teams join discussions on a supplier’s human rights work, it sets a powerful tone for action. Mars is shaping longer-term initiatives to support suppliers as they advance systems to monitor, address and prevent human rights risks in their supply chains. Verité has been working closely with select suppliers of palm oil, cocoa, sugarcane, fish and other materials to provide technical expertise and human rights coaching through this approach. We have seen firsthand that conversation between Mars Procurement leaders and supplier leadership can drive significant change. It sends a clear signal that stronger sustainability performance matters to Mars and underscores the significant human and financial resources needed to make meaningful, long-term impact. Mars is experimenting with how it factors in the “true cost” of these longer-term human rights approaches through the price it pays for some raw materials – considering the cost to support suppliers as they invest in building the sustainability systems they need. This model merits more exploration and has the potential to create a much more sustainable approach to supplier engagement moving forward. 

Simple Frameworks Create Focus. Mars created the CARE (Commit, Assess, Respond, Engage) Framework to support procurement teams as they develop the human rights aspect of their sourcing strategies based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The CARE Framework guides teams to secure support and resources, understand root causes and drivers of risk in specific supply chains, collaborate with suppliers and local NGOs and experts to solve problems, and drive progress through national and industry-wide initiatives. This tool has helped Mars bring structure and rigor to the way teams across the business design human rights action plans. Verité has taken this framework and strengthened it, working with Mars teams to apply it to raw materials such as palm oil, cocoa, sugarcane and fish. This brief overview of the framework may be useful to other practitioners, and we welcome comments and feedback as we continue to refine this tool. Thus far, the results are encouraging, including Mars’ human rights action plans in cocoa and in fish

If the Tools We Need Don’t Exist – Let’s Build Them. As we expand our work to address human rights issues in extended supply chains, Mars and Verité have found the tools we need don’t always exist. We’ve collaborated to build additional ones, informed by work supporting suppliers as they improve their systems, troubleshoot challenges and create consistent ways of communicating complex topics. As one example, Mars supported Verité to work with palm oil supplier Wilmar on its human rights management systems and practices. As part of this effort, Mars and Verité designed a maturity matrix to help evaluate suppliers’ progress against key human rights management system components. We continue refining this tool, the Human Rights Management System Roadmap, which aims to make the elements of strong human rights risk management systems explicit, so that suppliers are clear about what is expected of them by Mars as they manage their extended supply chains. Mars and Verité each continue to use and adapt this tool with a range of suppliers, and it’s now a part of Mars’s framework when it supports sustainability work in its extended supply chains. (Read more on Verité’s work with Wilmar here).  

Looking Ahead. There’s no doubt 2020 has been filled with change, challenges, and hardships for people, communities and businesses. But we have continued to see the power of our collaboration, especially during such difficult times. With Mars’s strong support, Verité has worked with new suppliers on long-term plans to improve their approach to human rights work in countries from Mexico to Malaysia. We’ve enhanced forced labor awareness and training in key sectors and trained more Mars Associates on human rights topics like child labor risks. We’re finding new ways to build capabilities virtually, even while unable to meet in person due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 2021 will bring its own set of challenges and opportunities, and we’ll continue taking action, learning and sharing what we find along the way. We look forward to learning from other practitioners tackling work to advance respect for rights of vulnerable workers. 

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