Promoting transparency & labour best practice in supply chains

Elaine Mitchel-Hill, Business and Human Rights Lead at Marshalls plc
Friday 22nd November, 2019

In early November 2019, our Business and Human Rights Lead Elaine Mitchel-Hill attended an important event in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, organised by the British Embassy. The event was an opportunity to raise awareness for Vietnamese and international businesses operating in Vietnam, regarding the benefits of transparency in supply chains and labour standard compliance. To learn and to share perspectives, Elaine discussed Marshalls journey and their efforts in supporting human rights, which started back in 2005. The workshop featured speakers from various background, discussing their efforts on promoting transparency and their best labour practice in supply chains. Whilst at the event, Florian Beranek spoke about the integrity and transparency in the light of recruitment in labour migration and Elaine has shared her thoughts about this insightful session below.

Florian Beranek, Lead Expert Responsible Business Conduct for UNIDO – which promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability - put people up-front-and-centre in his message to us today; ‘human beings’ rather than human capital or human resources.

As he spoke I thought about the people who work within our own company, the people working in our supply chains, the individual people who make up the communities surrounding our business operations and supply chains across the globe and the issues and challenges that they often face, the people who are economically empowered by us being there, the people who buy our products and services, the people touched and impacted by anything and everything that we do as a private sector organisation, the people who make up our board of directors and ultimately sanction the work that I do as business & human right lead. The responsibilities and opportunities that sit with me. The powerful sights, sounds and experiences that I absorb and imbibe as I travel the length and breadth of our international supply chains, seeing, hearing and smelling for myself the things which defy translation into the very best of audits reports, the conversations that I have with the people who make up the actors and stakeholders in this space; from workers, their families, UN staff, government officials, knowledgeable experts, engaged NGOs, my peers across all sectors, and many more.

I thought too about the issues manifest in international supply chains; about labour rights, migrant workers, vulnerable people, those people seeking better futures for themselves and for their families, the international and national laws, the law makers working on international modern slavery legislation, about the recent 39 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking and their families, modern slavery in all of its forms, about organised criminals and an illicit business which nets c. $150 billion annually. I thought vividly about people.

His words brought into sharp focus for me the powerful truth that it is the small decisions made on a daily basis, informed by vision, clarity, congruence and trust, which result in a compound effect overtime; every decision we make has an impact.

“What will the future look like? How will we adapt? The answer depends on what we do today? Every decision we make has an impact. At Marshalls we chose to be responsible. Sustainable. To ensure our impact is positive. And our legacy is powerful. We’ve always been a business of principles. Doing the right thing. For the right reasons. Now we make a commitment to the future. To build on the principles of the UNGC. And the sustainable development goals. To help people build safe and fulfilling lives. To protect the planet we share. And ensure society’s future is a bright one. To lead the way. Because the steps we take today will help all of us tomorrow. Let’s create brighter futures. Safer futures. Fairer futures. Let’s create better futures. For everyone.”

For everyone; not just for the people who are employed directly or who buy our product, but for the people throughout our supply chains who pull raw materials from the ground.

Thank you Florian for your thoughts and words which created a space in the day’s proceedings to allow me to draw down all of the facts, statistic and legislative changes that had been shared to a human level. We have choices, the choices we make matter more than we perhaps imagine, they have an impact on our fellow human beings, and make no mistake that they will compound over time.

When in doubt I do not focus upon what is said, but rather what is done. It tells me all that I need to know. And future generations will take a strong view on the choices that we made and whether we did indeed collectively create better futures, for everyone.

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