On 1 June, 2023, the European Parliament voted in favour of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) shedding light on the lack of similar due diligence regulations here in Aotearoa, especially with regards to international supply chains which Oxfam Aotearoa says it is deeply concerned by.
For many years trade unions and civil society groups, like Oxfam, have been lobbying for laws to be put in place to ensure living wages, safety and protection in supply chains owned by New Zealand companies. Whilst the conversation around the proposed Modern Slavery and Worker Exploitation law was a step in the right direction, sadly, some areas have fallen through the cracks.
Women and men working in factories overseas, making the clothes, food and other products that we consume, can and should be treated with dignity. Dignity means upholding human rights standards in terms of paying a living wage, ensuring safe conditions, adopting gender sensitive policies and several other key human rights standards.
Earlier this year, Oxfam visited women working in factories in Bangladesh, where – due to the lack of policy – women and men suffer severe consequences. One worker named Sabina told Oxfam about the factory where she works, “Due to the target filling pressure, sometimes I can eat and sometimes I cannot. It’s hard to drink water and use the toilet.” Sabina then goes on to say, “Yes, they abuse [me], but if I meet the target, then they don’t abuse. It happens to everyone. I feel sad and I cry for 1 or 2 hours, then I get relief.” These kinds of human rights violations should not be happening. Without fashion brands being made to do their due diligence, this will continue to happen.
Corporate due diligence is essential to ensure we can detect, prevent and address human rights violations in supply chains. The What She Makes Campaign launched by Oxfam Aotearoa is one such step towards ensuring corporate due diligence. The campaign works with leading fashion brands in Aotearoa to pay a living wage to the women who make our clothes in hundreds of factories situated across the globe.
Another approach to guarantee corporate due diligence is when governments enact and implement rules and regulations mandating companies to enforce human rights standards in their supply chains.
The CSDDD, an example of the latter approach, holds the potential to require that companies address issues such as payment of a living wage, ensure human rights standards in their value chains and be held accountable for environmental and/or climate damage caused by such companies. This is a small, yet positive step towards guaranteeing that women and men working along these supply chains are ensured a living wage, safety, and most of all, are treated with human dignity.
The CSDDD however, also has its shortfalls, such as only capturing a small proportion of companies, failing to remove significant hurdles in victims accessing justice, affording certain exemptions to the financial sector, and failing to include strong accountability measures for directors of companies. As the European Parliament along with the European Commission and the Council of Europe move forward in finalising the wording of the rules following Thursday’s vote, much work is needed to ensure that the CSDDD is made stronger. This will provide meaningful protection and redress mechanisms to millions of women and men around the world.
As the European block, the UK and Australia move towards abolition of modern slavery, ensuring due diligence and living wage guarantees, this is a good time for Aotearoa to take stock of its own commitments. The What She Makes Campaign’s most recent Transparency Report showed certain New Zealand brands lagging behind in supply chain transparency when compared to international brands. Hence, it is high time to rekindle the conversations around due diligence and modern slavery, and take concrete steps towards holding companies in Aotearoa accountable.