Has the World Cup Brought Human Rights into Greater Focus for Supply Chain Risks?

The Global Rights Index 2022 found that abuse of workers’ rights reached record highs in 2022.

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Written by: Alcumus
13th December

Despite the allure of the World Cup 2022, the global spotlight has firmly fallen on concern over the host country’s troubling human rights record.

The treatment of migrant workers has been widely publicised in the run up to the tournament but is just one of a range of violations that makes for a worrying record and laws that continue to discriminate against individuals.

With Qatar as the UK’s 29th largest trading partner, and trade in goods and services (exports plus imports) totalling £8.7 billion (in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2022: Department for International Trade), companies who trade between the two countries cannot shy away from their responsibilities to respect human rights and demonstrate credible sustainable and ethical practices.

Concerns have also been raised as the result of the Gulf nation’s investments in FTSE 100 firms including water and energy giants, who have paid almost £500 million to Qatari state-owned investors this year in dividend pay-outs.

In our latest blog on supply chains, we look at the emerging reputational risk from the World Cup in Qatar and the fact that they are sadly not alone in the growing violations of workers’ rights across the globe.

Labour rights in Qatar

According to Amnesty International:

  • While conditions have improved for some workers, there are still thousands who face issues such as delayed or unpaid wages, refusal of rest days, unsafe working conditions, barriers to changing jobs, and the deaths of thousands of workers that have not been investigated.
  • Forced labour and other forms of abuse continue, more so in the private security sector and for domestic workers. The payment of extortionate recruitment fees to secure jobs remains widespread, which takes workers months or even years to repay and ultimately traps them in cycles of exploitation.

This is not an issue though that is solely focused on Qatar. Russia, China, Egypt, North Korea Pakistan, Iran and Africa are just some of the main countries with their own human rights issues.

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index Report, 167 countries were cited in violation of the human rights of its citizens.

Research by Human Rights Watch and other migrant and human rights organisations demonstrates that the labour reforms are woefully inadequate and poorly enforced, with workers’ continuing to suffer serious labour abuses and even forced labour.

A moral compass of accountability?

Fragmented supply chains equal a very real consequence of exposure to poor working conditions and compliance gaps that can go undetected.

Despite growing pressure for organisations to operate ethically, there are valid misgivings that not enough is being done to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts – either linked to their own operations, products or services or third parties they work with.

It is therefore disappointing that the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) concluded in its 2022 review that: “too many companies appear not to view human rights issues in their workforce and supply chain as a principal source of risk for their business, and that modern slavery considerations are still not a mainstream concern for many boardrooms”.

The reality is that modern slavery and forced labour remains a huge issue at all levels of the supply chain – from the first tier of direct or strategic suppliers, all the way down via multiple layers of sub-suppliers and sub-contractors.

  • 50 million people worldwide in modern slavery; 28 million of which were in forced labour (ILO)
  • An increase of 2.7 million in forced labour between 2016 and 2021 (ILO)
  • 12% of UK companies with a legal requirement to provide a modern slavery statement have failed to comply with s.54. (FRC 2022)
Taking action against unethical practices

Recognising, addressing and taking action to prevent unethical practices and protect human rights should be a key priority for businesses of all sizes. For this to work effectively, data visibility is crucial and to make sure that business do not work with suppliers that fall below the required ethical standards.

Businesses need to:

  • Demonstrate their commitment to tackling forced labour and abuse of workers’ rights
  • Implement proactive measures in their operations and supply chains to reduce the risks
  • Invest in programmes that address specific countries where forced labour or exploitation has been found
  • Proactively manage incidences of poor or unethical practices where they occur
  • Support employees and suppliers to protect and prevent against exploitation

As Anthony Hanley, SVP of Global Sustainable Supply Chain Compliance at Alcumus, explains: “Preventing human rights violations in the supply chain should not be about consequence management for businesses. Instead, purpose driven organisations that care about people and doing the right thing are leading the way, creating change, for the better. There is huge pressure to take the necessary steps to eradicate abuses and to have responsible sourcing practices”.

While these issues are clearly not a challenge that can be eradicated overnight, effective and appropriate oversight needs greater attention and action. How companies behave matters, and where businesses fall short, then the risks they face of non-compliance as well as reputational and financial damage is rightfully justified.

To support your business, find out how our technology, people and expertise gives insight into the resilience of supply chains by contacting 0330 127 1723, visiting www.alcumus.com/en-gb/supply-chain-compliance/ or emailing [email protected].