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Achieving better social outcomes for vulnerable workers
Awareness training on gender-based violence for garment factory workers in Bangladesh is one of the projects being implemented by the BP4GG programme to improve the lives of women and men in supply chains. - © CARE International
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Protecting workers will protect supply chains in pandemic

Coronavirus has disrupted global supply chains, putting at risk the livelihoods of farmers and factory workers in some of the world’s least developed countries.

An innovative partnerships programme managed by Mott MacDonald will help one million people across Africa and Asia by supporting vulnerable workers and their families through the pandemic.

It will also help to keep popular consumer products on the shelves of the UK’s shops, writes Mehnaz Bhaur, Mott MacDonald’s senior consultant.

The effects of COVID-19 have been devastating for many industries. Two of the hardest-hit are the agriculture and garments sectors.

When the pandemic struck, Business Partnerships for Global Goals (BP4GG), designed to give greater protection to workers supplying UK businesses, was only two weeks into implementation.

The impact of coronavirus on supply chains was immediate: cancelled orders, factory closures and staff laid off, which led to disruptions to supplies, financial shocks for small and medium-sized companies, and job and income uncertainty for their workers.

The families dependent on these industries for their livelihoods needed immediate aid. In less than 10 weeks, the programme was swiftly adapted into a vulnerable supply chains facility, pivoting to deliver bespoke support on the ground quickly as well as fast-tracking projects in line with the programme’s original aims.

Partnerships as a force for good

One of the programme’s innovative aspects is how it has brought together the private and not-for-profit (NFP) sectors to work in partnership to deliver COVID-19 response and resilience activities for the most vulnerable women and men.

Following a rapid needs assessment and a competitive call for proposals, we matched NFP organisations with partner multinational companies to implement eight projects across Africa and Asia.

The businesses contributing to the programme through match funding include some of the UK’s biggest and best-known retailers – Co-op, Flamingo, Marks and Spencer, Monsoon Accessorize, Mondelez, Morrisons, Primark, Procter and Gamble, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Union Roasted, Waitrose, and VF Corp.

The project has brought on board some of the world’s leading transparency and sustainability-related NFP and multistakeholder initiatives, including CARE International UK, Ethical Trading Initiative, Fairtrade Foundation, GoodWeave International, and Impactt.

Eight projects in seven countries

The eight projects are all up and running – four supporting the garments industry, in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and four supporting the agriculture sector, in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

These projects are helping the workers of more than 130 small and medium-sized businesses in a number of ways:

  • Supplying the most vulnerable workers and their families with health packages including masks, soap, hand sanitiser and paracetamol

  • Providing farms and garment factories with technical assistance on implementing COVID-19 safe processes to stay in production

  • Financial support for factory workers during the pandemic and beyond

  • Training and support for small flower farmers to enable them to continue to grow and harvest their crops during lockdown

  • Supporting cocoa farmers and flower growers to help them cultivate other crops and diversify their incomes through climate-smart farming

  • Strengthening healthcare systems to safeguard women against gender-based violence in the workplace and wider community

  • Testing innovative and climate-smart freight options for flowers shipped from Africa to the UK and Europe

  • Increasing transparency of ‘hidden’ supply chains to provide enhanced protection against child labour, modern slavery and poor working conditions

Business innovation for environmental sustainability

New business models are being tested to keep supply chains moving during the pandemic and improve their commercial and environmental sustainability as well as positive social impact.

One of these projects is testing the viability of shipping flowers from East Africa to Europe by sea instead of air.

The flower-growing industry has been badly affected by the pandemic. In Kenya alone, 85,000 flower workers were laid off due to falling demand. Some of these are now back at work and being trained to develop new packaging and protocols that will preserve fresh-cut flowers during a four-week sea voyage.

If transporting flowers by container ship proves successful, it will make the industry more cost-effective as sea freight costs can be half those of airfreight, increasing the resilience of both the supply chain and growers’ livelihoods.

It would also reduce the industry’s carbon footprint – research shows sea freight can deliver an 87% saving of CO2 over airfreight.

Good for communities, good for business

BP4GG is a unique example of how the international development sector and responsible businesses can work together to achieve better social outcomes – protecting vulnerable women and men, improving working conditions and workers’ rights, and raising awareness of health issues and gender-based violence, as well as combating climate change.

But it’s not just communities and the environment that benefit – it’s good for the bottom line, too. Increasing the resilience of supply chains will ensure companies can continue to supply customers with their products throughout the pandemic and during future economic shocks.

And this will not just protect jobs in developing countries, but jobs in the UK: importers, distributors, wholesalers, and shop staff.

Social, economic and health benefits

The eight projects have provided valuable assistance to communities during the first wave of coronavirus. This support is continuing to be relevant as many countries experience the pandemic’s second or even third wave.

Over the next year, more than 200,000 workers in agriculture and nearly 120,000 garment workers will have benefited directly. If you include their families, a total of around one million people will receive some form of social, economic or health benefit.

Countless consumers in the UK can also be said to be a beneficiary if, pandemic or no pandemic, they can still buy a coffee, a bouquet of flowers or a new outfit – thanks to greater protection of vulnerable workers in supply chains.

The BP4GG programme is managed by Mott MacDonald in partnership with Accenture via Accenture Development Partnerships and the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Mehnaz Bhaur, economic development lead, Mott MacDonald

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