A recent article in the Economist discussed how global supply chains will survive the current trade and COVID-19 related-challenges, and come out of it stronger and more reliable. Then, so the article goes, supply chains can once again “fade out of sight and out of mind”.
While we understand the author’s point (supply chains should be so smooth and trouble- free that we basically forget about them), The Centre (together with many others) aims to ensure that we keep talking about supply chains long beyond COVID – because there are major issues in our supply chains. Whilst COVID has partly made things worse, it has also brought many issues which were already existing to light.
The pandemic has shown that a large majority of workers in upstream supply chains live with little to no social security and are far from benefitting from strong and resilient supply chains. And despite talk of “building back better or fairer”, we have seen that many companies have put worker-wellbeing programmes and other investments to strengthen resilience in supply chains on hold.
Companies have accepted reduced visibility in their supply chains and have postponed and reduced their social compliance monitoring and assessment activities. Factories in turn are responding to fluctuating orders and increased cost with undisclosed subcontracting, increased use of labour agents, or, as we have seen too often this year, by hiring children and juvenile workers who accept working for low pay with no contract.
One of those is 11-year-old Nur. As the pandemic hit, her school closed, her family’s income dropped and so it was decided that she should go to work. She ended up in a export oriented textile factory working day and night shifts with no rest days for weeks in a row. She is one of 98 children currently in our remediation programme – a number we unfortunately know is not representative of the millions of children in child labour situations in supply chains. But each one of their stories is worth being heard and talked about and most importantly acted upon.
Addressing child labour in supply chains will likely become more difficult and take longer than just smoothening out the logistics. We all need to make sure we keep these stories ‘in our sight and in our mind’ and focus on doing better in our supply chains – for real.
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