What do recently published human rights benchmarks tell us about progress on responsible purchasing practices?  

September 20, 2023 10:57 am, Published by , Leave your thoughts

Mariana Gomezgil-Gabriel, Business and Human Rights Manager 

Human rights benchmarks can be a powerful tool for businesses, measuring companies’ commitments to human rights through various indicators like due diligence, responsible recruitment, decent work, purchasing practices, governance and transparency. 

Benchmarks offer a chance for improvement by showing how companies compare with industry standards. Low scores can signal to investors and consumers that a company needs to step up its human rights efforts. Conversely, a high score can set a company apart, attracting sustainable investment, new partnerships, and conscientious consumers. 

We have recently seen two benchmarks release their latest assessments. The KnowTheChain Food and Beverage benchmark assesses 60 of the biggest food and beverage companies’ efforts to address forced labour. The Fashion Transparency Index ranks the 250 largest fashion brands and retailers’ human rights and environmental policies, practices, and impacts. Both of these benchmarks align their methodology with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  

One crucial aspect of respecting human rights and preventing forced labour is responsible purchasing practices. These practices define how buyers interact with their suppliers. Collaboration and shared responsibility in supply chains are vital to preventing human rights abuses. Both benchmarks reveal that unethical purchasing practices can lead to worker exploitation. 

The two benchmarks highlight how it is common practice in both sectors to abruptly change or cancel orders, to extend payment terms, or pay at rates that may undermine suppliers’ ability to ensure decent working conditions and wages. In addition, in the fashion industry the practice of retrospective discounts is also common. 

The KnowTheChain Food and Beverage benchmark highlights that 13% of food and beverage companies are taking steps to measure living wages in their supply chains, and 8% provide limited information on actions taken towards adopting responsible purchasing practices. The overall average score across companies for the Purchasing Practices theme is 2 out of 100, the lowest scoring theme in the benchmark.   

Among the companies in the Fashion Transparency Index, 28% disclose an approach to achieving living wages for supply chain workers, and less than 1% publish a standard, due-diligence-aligned supplier agreement template, setting out typical order and payment terms and conditions.

These findings emphasise that there’s significant opportunity for improvement in both sectors to embed responsible purchasing practices as the norm. Both benchmarks encourage companies to take proactive steps toward ethical purchasing practices to ensure fair work free from exploitation in their global supply chains.  

Stronger Together is on a mission to help organisations to embed responsible recruitment and fair work, while mitigating labour exploitation in their operations and supply chains.  We believe in a partnership approach between suppliers and buyers, supported by responsible purchasing practices and sustainable commercial models and provide practical guidance and training to help businesses progress. You can:  

Benchmarking doesn’t just point out flaws; it guides businesses toward a more ethical and sustainable future. With Stronger Together’s support, you can make substantial progress in achieving responsible purchasing practices in your supply chain. 

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