Recapping the OECD Forum Side Sessions 2023

As the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Garment and Footwear Sector wraps up for another year, we at Fair Wear want to reflect on the four side sessions we hosted, co-hosted and contributed to. 

We started off the week with our side session on ‘Ensuring local stakeholder- and worker-inclusive supply chain grievance mechanisms‘ organised along with Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (PST)/GIZ and CNV Internationaal.

With more than 200 attendees, this interactive online side session demonstrated a rising interest in the topic of access to remedy across the sector. Each participant was invited to join our panellists and speakers in asking the pressing questions: what elements are needed for supply chain grievance mechanisms to be inclusive and effective for workers? Which mechanisms best benefit workers? And, what is possible for collaboration between different mechanisms as well as with stakeholders to support more worker-inclusive supply chain grievance mechanisms in the garment sector?

Our moderator, Dr Jennifer Zerk, kicked the conversation off by clearly identifying that ‘meaningful engagement with affected people and groups is absolutely fundamental to having a grievance mechanism that is going to be used and trusted. We have to remember that people with lived experiences of the challenges that grievance mechanisms try to address, are the real experts in this field’.

Fair Wear’s grievance mechanisms coordinator, Valentine Wolfram, reiterated this point by explaining how ‘engaging and collaborating with workers and their legitimate representatives is key to ensuring that supply chain grievance mechanisms respond to workers’ needs and perspectives’. In this endeavour, more collaboration across the sector is also required. That is why Fair Wear and PST have started to collaborate with other MSIs and partner organisations to find alignment and synergy between grievance mechanisms while always keeping the workers’ – the people for whom these mechanisms are intended – needs, expectations and perspectives at the centre. Wolfram further added that supply chain grievance mechanisms should not replace the local grievance mechanisms and instead, that they should act as a safety net.

Indeed, Suzan Cornelissen of CNV Internationaal reinforced this point. In her words: ‘it is most ideal for grievances to be solved locally via social dialogue, yet the work of unions and the level of freedom of association in many Asian countries is a real challenge. This is where international brands and MSIs can offer their support.’

Panellists Elly Rosita from KSBSI (Indonesian trade union confederation), Emma Vogt from Clean Clothes Campaign, and Joris Oldenziel from the International Accord, also shared, in their own experience, what is required for meaningful engagement, and what the opportunities and challenges are for making supply chain grievance mechanisms more worker inclusive.

After the first half of lively discussion, our participants shared in break-out rooms their thoughts on conditions for engagement and how workers can benefit from supply chain grievance mechanisms. Emphasising key discussion points from our panel, awareness and trust building were cited as key elements of meaningful engagement and effective grievance mechanisms for workers, along with regular, continuous and transparent dialogue and enabling equal participation. To the question of whether a more harmonised system of grievance mechanisms would benefit workers, participants suggested that ‘organisations like ACT, SAC, FWF, Amfori, and Accord should be able to join forces [towards] one good grievance mechanism system, which would gain trust from all stakeholders’. Lara Hutt from PST says that this is the sort of advice is she ready to implement, while remaining cognizant of the challenges in doing so, such as preventing a lowering of standards as the sector comes together.

Having so many different stakeholders join together during this session was a crucial step in building consensus around what key elements should be considered to make supply chain grievance mechanisms worker-inclusive and ensure that workers’ needs are properly met. The discussions provided insightful experience and perspectives relevant to pursue our work to build more aligned and effective supply chain grievance mechanisms, with meaningful engagement with workers and stakeholders at their core.

Our next side session was on ‘Responsible Purchasing Practices: how can companies integrate responsible purchasing practices in their businesses? Learnings from the Common Framework for Responsible Purchasing Practices (CFRPP), the STTI White Paper and a community-based approach’, organised by MSI Working Group on Responsible Purchasing Practices joined by STTI – Sustainable Terms of Trade Initiative.  

Our brilliant panellists and expert speaker provided a unique opportunity for attendees to hear how companies can integrate responsible purchasing practices into business, and the importance of the supplier’s voice in making these changes. This is something that Arnoud van Vliet is doing as CSR Manager of Fair Wear member brand, Zeeman. During the session, van Vliet addressed the power imbalances that exist between the buyer and supplier, which he sees as one of the greatest barriers to moving towards responsible purchasing practices. He shared insights on the two-way code of conduct that Zeeman has developed between the company and supplier, which can ultimately lead to ‘better forecasting and long-term partnerships.’ 

Vanessa Podmore, founder of Podmore Consulting, also acknowledged the challenges that brands face when attempting to revise their purchasing practices. Offering a message of pragmatism, Podmore stressed that moving away from traditional approaches to purchasing practices is ‘not just about human rights’, but that ‘business outcomes will also improve when purchasing practices improve.’   

On the same day, Mousumi Sarangi, Fair Wear’s Country Manager of India and Regional Coordinator of Gender, was among the panellists on the side session on ‘Making Human Rights Due Diligence work for homeworkers‘, hosted by Hidden Homeworkers. 

When discussing how to ensure that due diligence processes reach some of the most vulnerable workers in garment and footwear supply chains, Sarangi made it clear that ‘homeworkers are not the problem; the access to human and labour rights for the homeworkers is’.  

Of the many expert recommendations offered to brands — such as the benefit of implementing a homeworker policy and working with local stakeholders, like Cividep, on the ground —  the main takeaway was that building trust with suppliers and subcontractors is key. 

Our last side session was hosted by The Industry We Want (TIWW), which brought close to 250 attendees — a number that showcases commitment and dedication to the journey towards catalysing collective action.  

Karen Diaz, Programme Manager at TIWW and host of the side session, kicked things off by presenting the new scores of the 2023 Industry Dashboard. The Industry Dashboard is a set of industry-wide metrics used to measure progress across social, commercial and environmental spheres. However, rather than progress, this year’s three metrics highlight stagnation — furthering the impatience and frustration around the pace of change that TIWW was born of.   

Noor Naqschbandi from GIZ, the session’s moderator, steered a necessary conversation between our panellists on what causes the challenges that the sector faces towards accelerating change. Evelyn Astor of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) referred to the ‘endemic of low wages across the industry.’ Astor stressed the importance of regulation and the role of government to set and enforce living wages that are — in a transparent way — developed in collaboration with trade unions as the representatives of workers. When discussing the challenges around decarbonisation, CDP’s Dedy Mahardika implored the necessity of ‘listening to the voices of people from Asian countries…  who are most affected by climate change’ and whose needs differ from those of the climate champions in Europe or North America. Pan Brother’s Anne Patricia Sutanto rounded off her contribution by urging the sector to ‘discuss solutions openly, not shamefully.’ 

Lastly, The OECD’s Dr Matthias Altmann reflected on the compelling panel discussion and reiterated the shared goals of TIWW and the OECD, where data plays an integral role in driving industry change forward.  

Opportunities to collaborate and align with the industry such as these remind Fair Wear that we are uniquely positioned to be both visionary and pragmatic. We want to thank our panellists and speakers for kicking off the OECD Forum with us and for providing their valuable insights, experience and knowledge. Together, we can enact meaningful change.