Respecting workers’ rights: New Accountability Framework Guidance

As companies set and implement commitments to halt deforestation and ecosystem conversion, it is critical that they also address the rights and wellbeing of the people working on the farms and forests in their supply chains. This requires clear commitments, action and investment to address human rights issues such as child labour, forced labour, discrimination and a living wage.

By design, the Accountability Framework weaves together the environmental and social dimensions of responsible supply chains, recognizing the efficiencies that can be gained by addressing both in a coordinated manner. The Framework’s Core Principle 2.3 specifies what should be included in company commitments to respect workers’ rights, while Core Principles 3-12 describe the process and practices that companies should adopt to implement these commitments alongside their environmental commitments.

To support companies in implementing Core Principle 2.3, today the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) released new Operational Guidance on Workers’ Rights. This material complements existing AFi guidance that addresses human rights in the context of indigenous peoples, local communities and smallholders. Intended for companies at all stages of the value chain (including producers and processors, traders, and buyers), the new guidance outlines best practice for respecting workers’ rights within farm and forest operations, as well as company-wide, through integrated management systems and human rights due diligence.

Recognizing the valuable contributions that human rights organizations have already made on these topics, the new guidance highlights and synthesizes internationally-recognized best practice on workers’ rights. The guidance is fully aligned with major pre-existing human rights instruments such as the ILO fundamental conventions and related guidance, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) human rights due diligence process, and the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Business Conduct. The guidance also highlights practical resources and reporting frameworks for companies to implement workers’ rights commitments and disclose their progress.

Like all of the Accountability Framework, the Operational Guidance on Workers’ Rights represents the consensus of the AFi’s diverse NGO Steering Group. Development of the guidance was led by AFi coalition members with expertise in workers’ rights.

Where to begin?  

While many companies already have some policies and practices in place to safeguard the rights of workers, exploitative labour practices remain pervasive in the same supply chains that also pose risks for deforestation and ecosystem conversion. Even with guidance and resources to support companies in addressing workers’ rights issues, there often remains the question of “where to begin?” The AFi’s workers’ rights experts offer the following suggestions:

  • Recognize worker well-being as essential for ethical supply chains: Make workers’ rights part of a holistic and integrated approach to setting sustainability and climate goals and investing in their implementation.
  • Break down “sustainability silos”: Integrate the environmental and social components of corporate sustainability efforts to increase efficiencies and improve outcomes. This requires close collaboration across environmental and social topics within the sustainability team as well as strong integration with procurement, compliance, and reporting functions.
  • Start with a clear roadmap: Assess existing workers’ rights policies and practices against the Accountability Framework using AFi’s Self-assessment tool. Then use the AFi’s guide on How to write a robust ethical supply chain policy to fill in any policy-related gaps.
  • Engage suppliers: Many commodity suppliers require systematic capacity building to help understand and implement their buyers’ sustainable sourcing policies. Follow this up with incentives for good performance and consequences for ongoing workers’ rights violations.
  • Listen to the workers: Create channels for direct worker engagement and monitoring using ‘worker voice’ technologies and other instruments.
  • Don’t go it alone: There is no simple prescription or single set of practices that can ensure respect for workers’ rights across the myriad different contexts and workplace settings that characterize agricultural and forestry supply chains. The most effective companies are those that engage with and learn from peer companies, experts, and worker and community organizations. Practical resources can be found in the Operational Guidance, and AFi’s workers’ rights experts also stand ready to provide support:
    • Social Accountability International helps businesses at every level of the supply chain understand their responsibilities to workers and communities, implement socially responsible practices, and advances socially responsible policy by convening stakeholders from unions, government and business.
    • Verite provides expert consultation, training, audits, and other services to help buyers and suppliers understand and implement sound labour practices, including on labour recruitment and other complex challenges.
    • Proforest supports companies throughout supply chains to have positive social and environmental outcomes in the places where commodities are produced.
    • Rainforest Alliance provides tailored services to companies that cover both the environmental and social aspects of corporate responsibility and include support such as benchmarking existing policies and practices against the Accountability Framework, assessing supply chain risk, and defining actions to address identified risks.

Access the Workers’ Rights Guidance