Absolutely, Andrew! NGOs can play an important role in highlighting problems and abuses, but there is an equally important role to be played in being part of the search for answers alongside companies. I see many NGOs evolving in this direction and some that manage very effectively to play both roles, though it's not always straightforward for them and their own positioning and business models. But it's certainly central to making progress!
Andrew Wilson said:
We've always found huge value in bringing companies and civil society together. But it requires a willingness to engage constructively on both sides of the fence. When I was running ICC’s London office, we started talking to a range of MNCs a few years ago about (what’s now termed) modern slavery. The initial response from many was “that’s not an issue that affects us”. By getting them engaged with leading NGOs we were able—very quickly—to raise awareness of the issue in global supply chains. What was interesting was that the civil society groups we worked with started from the position that the agenda is about engaging business in the fight against slavery; rather than pointing the finger at firms for not doing enough. That’s the kind of constructive engagement we need to see more of in the context of the post-2015 agenda.
Dr Sam Lacey said:
We agree that it is certainly easier to make progress when there is some collaborative momentum behind an issue. I think that sector initiatives like the RSPO and FSC are good at addressing such issues within individual sectors. However, I don't think companies can use the lack of progress of their peers to avoid taking responsibility for their own impacts. One company needs to make a start and lead the way. To your child labour point, it could be as simple as a company setting up a community meeting to discuss the problem of child labour and to hear the community's views of what can be done about it and go from there.
Caroline Rees said:
One additional reflection in response to question two. Many of the real barriers lie in systemic challenges. How do you respect children's rights when child labour is endemic in part of your supply chain, and simply pulling out will often mean even more destitution for those children and their families? How do you address poverty level wages in your supply chain when rushing to drastically increase wages in your own supply factories can have all manner of perverse consequences, including, through inflation, for human rights of the poorest?
The learning about how to address these kinds of issues shows that the solutions have to be collaborative. More companies need to be teaming up with others in their industries, with governments, civil society, international organizations, or other experts to work on these issues together. It's happening in many areas, but a great deal more is needed. Investors could be a voice in pressing companies to show how they collaborate where these kinds of systemic risk are linked to their business.