Sustainable Supply Chains Webinar – 29 July 2020 REAL Sustainability and Business Declares

By Kevin Boon


REAL Sustainability  and Business Declares  jointly presented a webinar with a focus on sustainable supply chains and business in transition. The event was facilitated by REAL’s Safia Minney.

Guest Speakers were:

Fiona Ellis – CEO, Business Declares

Ben Tolhurst – Head of UK Managed Services, JLL

Erinch Sahan – CEO, World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) 

Cindy Berman – formerly Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI) 

Anannya Bhattacharjee – President, Garment and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) and International Coordinator of Asia Floor Wage Alliance

Watch the Full webinar here

“Mission primacy must become central as we face the convergence of crises – climate, ecological, social and health”. (Safia)

Safia introduced the event describing how global trade has historically not taken account of externalities. There is an urgent need to transform supply chains to minimise environmental impact and maximise social benefits to workers in the global south. In the context of the climate emergency, supply chain (scope 3) GHG emissions in many industries contribute over 75% of total emissions. (See REAL’s article on Science Based Targets here)

“Declaring a climate emergency is about action not words; it is very much not about green-washing”. (Fiona)

Business Declares was formed by a group of key business leaders in response to the mass public activism witnessed in 2019. It advocates for the change needed in achieving net zero in the timeframe 2025-2030 and reflects the Extinction Rebellion demand to “tell the truth”. Key is that declaring a climate emergency is about action not just words or green-washing. Business Declares, which counts as its members Body Shop, Ecotricity and People Tree, has joined the Planetary Health Partnership led by the Club of Rome. They believe that sustainable businesses and supply chains perform better and that climate justice is racial justice. 

“This is about collaboration; this is about ethics at the heart of everything we do”. (Ben)

JLL is one of the largest property management companies globally responsible for a large number of shopping centres and other commercial assets in the UK. They believe ethics is at the heart of their business and view suppliers as partners. They invest in the circular economy particularly in terms of re-use of materials. 

“We have to remove the discount culture and make it mainstream”. “The drivers of supply chains, the multinationals, must pay the true cost of their supply chains”. (Anannya)

Anannya expressed her appreciation of the event looking to combine the issues of climate justice, social and racial justice.  These are interconnected issues. Business decisions in many industries, including fashion, are made regionally. Asia is the largest producer of apparel. She is active with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) which was formed to facilitate organisation of workers across the continent of Asia. COVID-19 has exposed the structural flaws in the fashion supply chain system the precarious nature of which often adversely affects both businesses and workers. The current business model for brands is to force down prices. This leads to the employment of highly vulnerable workers susceptible to poverty wages, lack of social security and absence of labour rights. To compete for wages, individual countries seek to keep costs and therefore standards low. AFWA has been demanding brands honour completed orders and pay for 60 days of lost wages. The long-term vision is a transformation of supply chains to provide workers with a living wage and freedom of association. There also needs to be sustainable production and consumption.

“We need big picture solutions involving rebalancing of power and investment in the right things”. (Cindy)

Cindy talked about how the already precarious situation faced by vulnerable workers – migrants, children and informal workers – was being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Migrant workers, who are often already indebted, have been quarantined in overcrowded conditions without access to public health, without income, exposed to sexual violence and unable to return home. COVID has also seen a historic reversal of progress made in recent years to address the issue of child labour. Children have been out of school and are often desperate for money. Going forward we need trade unions, investors, governments and NGOs to work with business to build an enabling environment with the goal of achieving a far more sustainable and ethical economic model. 

Sustainable Supply Chains event

“We are building the alternative and we need to foster that”. (Erinch)

WFTO is a global network and verifier of social enterprises that fully practice fair trade. There are now 350 partners across 76 countries. In the context of the anti-racism and gender equality movements taking place, fair trade is about making marginalised people the core priority. The ten fair trade principles focus on putting people and planet first in terms of structures, practices and impacts. Social and environmental goals must be pursued over financial gain. A recent study found that 99% of fair traders invest all profits in their social mission; 52% had a female CEO. They were also found to have greater resilience to bankruptcy by a factor of four. In the words of Erinch, “we need to maximise the social impact for the ecological footprint each sale generates”. We need mission primacy business not profit primacy. Mission primacy leads to ecological primacy as workers depend on their local environment. This translates to upcycling, recycling as well as handmade production and zero carbon. Kate Raworth’s model of doughnut economics looks at the macro picture. It considers a planetary ceiling, or limits, for climate change, biodiversity, ocean acidification etc set against achieving economic impact with resources to provide social benefits. Consumers can play their part through the investments they make and by pressuring government to change taxation policies such that there is a financial incentive to purchase ethical, sustainable products.