Dear Minister,

Please accept our regards on behalf of Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental human rights organization that conducts research and advocacy in about 90 countries around the world on a wide variety of human rights issues, including human rights abuses that occur in the context of global supply chains.

This year’s G20 summit, and the preceding Labor and Employment Ministerial Meeting, are important opportunities to advance the political commitment by G20 countries to protect human rights in global supply chains. We believe that the German Presidency of the G20, and your ministry in particular, could play a crucial role in shaping a strong agenda around global supply chains, building on Germany’s past leadership around this issue at the G7 and the International Labour Organization (ILO). We are therefore writing to make recommendations for the Ministerial Declaration as well as the final G20 Declaration.

Human Rights Watch has found that governments often fail to fulfill their duty to protect human rights through effective regulation of business activity, both domestically and abroad. It has also found that many businesses’ insufficient human rights safeguards have allowed abuses to proliferate. We have documented a wide range of human rights problems in the context of global supply chains. These include, for example, labor rights abuses and anti-union tactics against factory workers producing branded apparel and footwear, hazardous child labor in farms growing tobacco purchased by international cigarette manufacturers, and deadly accidents killing artisanal miners digging gold that is destined for the global market.

According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility to carry out effective human rights due diligence, which includes an objective assessment of a company’s human rights risks coupled with effective steps to mitigate or avoid those risks. Companies also have a responsibility to help ensure that people who suffer abuses are able to access appropriate remedies. The UN Guiding Principles establish a useful framework to guide the conduct of responsible businesses. Yet, voluntary standards are not enough to ensure the protection of rights in supply chains. The standard’s voluntary nature means that there is no penalty for companies that choose to ignore it or fail to make serious efforts to live up to it. Where human rights due diligence has become mandatory through law and regulation, this has spurred companies into positive action, for example on public reporting.

In the context of the upcoming G20 Summit, Human Rights Watch therefore urges you to include robust commitments towards human rights due diligence in the draft Ministerial Declaration that you will be preparing and reviewing at the Employment Working Group meeting on 27-28 March in Geneva. We are also urging you to ensure that such commitments are fully included in the final G20 Declaration. In particular, we are recommending that:

  • G20 governments commit to making human rights due diligence in global supply chains a legal requirement for companies, building on models developed by the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. The main elements of human rights due diligence should be based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  • G20 governments commit to legally requiring companies to publicly disclose their suppliers and report publicly on human rights due diligence efforts they are undertaking throughout their global operations.
  • G20 governments express support for the decision of the 2016 International Labour Conference to review current ILO standards and to consider whether additional standards are needed to better protect human rights in global supply chains.
  • G20 governments commit to making independent grievance mechanisms and remedy available and accessible for workers in global supply chains. Grievance mechanisms should be based on the principles for non-judicial grievance mechanisms laid out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and build on good practices developed for existing grievance mechanisms, including the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). A grievance mechanism should include conflict resolution approaches and offer an independent investigation function as well as periodic public updates about the measures taken to address the human rights abuses.
  • G20 governments commit to promoting and protecting space for civil society, trade unions, and communities to expose and demand an end to human rights violations in the context of global supply chains.
  • G20 governments endorse the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and commit to developing substantive national action plans for implementation, if they have not done so.
  • G20 governments commit to adhering to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, ensure that their National Contact Point (NCP) systems are independent and capable of delivering effective remedy, and commit to mandatory NCP peer review.
  • G20 governments commit to expanding the G7 Vision Zero Fund, a multi donor fund to prevent work-related deaths and strengthen the application of ILO standards in global supply chains, to all G20 countries.

We would be happy to discuss these recommendations further with you and look forward to hearing from you.

Wenzel Michalski            Juliane Kippenberg

Germany director             Associate children’s rights director

Human Rights Watch       Human Rights Watch