Engage workers by establishing trusted, effective worker voice and representation mechanisms, and commit to remedy rights violations
As part of a responsibility to respect human rights, The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that companies have the responsibility to establish grievance mechanisms for workers who may be negatively impacted by business activities, in order to remediate harm to workers.
Grievance mechanisms, remediation, and worker representation are all methods for helping companies to prevent, address, and respond quickly and adequately to worker concerns and grievances.
build trusted grievance and worker voice mechanisms in supply chains
Require that workers are able to safely access trusted grievance and worker voice mechanisms.
Establish grievance mechanisms for workers to capture grievances (e.g., restricted freedom of movement/retention of documents, physical or verbal abuse, nonpayment of wages) and implement practices to facilitate worker engagement in order to capture the feedback, experiences, and needs of workers.
What are grievance mechanisms?
Grievance mechanisms are formalized processes for receiving, evaluating, and resolving workers’ complaints. These may pertain to a company’s behavior to its employees or its effects on the surrounding community. It is critical that grievance mechanisms protect workers from retaliation.
Grievance mechanisms, often set up as suggestion boxes, open door policies, or a toll-free hotline, are formal, legal or non-legal, complaint processes that can be used by workers who are negatively impacted by business operations. (Human Rights & Grievance Mechanisms. https://www.grievancemechanisms.org/intro/what)
When functioning properly, these systems operate as an internal emergency service, alerting management to potentially serious labor or human rights claims within the company. Complaints delivered through mechanisms create a record of reported issues and can help establish a formal process of claims remediation.
"The main responsibility for dealing with grievances of supply chain workers lies with the direct employer...
There are a number of ways in which brands and retailers can help bridge this gap and improve access to remedy in global supply chains. This includes the provision of formal, overarching grievance procedures for supply chain workers, as well as working with suppliers to build local grievance handling capacity...
Moreover, with large companies there may be a range of potential routes that a grievance may be received, including official grievance mechanism contact points, but also ethical trade or human rights teams, corporate affairs, customer hotlines, worker hotlines, stakeholder engagement teams and direct relations with trade unions.”- Ethical Trading Initiative
What are best practices for grievance mechanisms?
Well-functioning grievance mechanisms:
Gather workers’ views through participatory monitoring tools.
Establish safeguards to protect worker confidentially and prevent recrimination or dismissal.
Provide accessibility to all workers by providing access to workers in their own language, and provide appropriate language assistance as needed to workers who may not read or write.
Provide regular communication with complainants to inform them of the status of their grievance.
Ensure clear lines for corporate responsibility and follow up, and include public reporting on how grievances were received and resolved.
Help companies identify and correct systemic issues.
What is worker voice?
Worker voice is the term used to capture the different policies and practices in place that capture the feedback of workers, as well as the resolution and remediation of that feedback. Worker voice is about identifying the issues and needs from workers already in supply chains.
While grievance mechanisms are set up to address issues once they are formally filed, worker feedback mechanisms are intended to solicit feedback from workers in consistent and systematic ways, even when a grievance has not been reported. Collecting near real-time data directly from workers through surveys, interviews, or suggestion boards creates opportunities for workers to influence company strategy and workplace improvement initiatives.
Worker voice is a systems-based approach that incorporates workers in the development of policies, protocols, and strategies. It allows workers to safely communicate about their working conditions and grievances and creates opportunities for workers to have some level of control and input over developments in their work environment. Incorporating feedback from workers can build trust and enable companies to validate and leverage the opinions or concerns of those on-the-ground. Company-led worker voice is particularly powerful in supply chains where workers have little or no access to protections or systems of justice in the country of employment. It is important to value the workers in supply chains as key components of a healthy business with a strong bottom-line.
"Two fundamental aspects of ‘worker voice’ have always been:
(1) Capturing the voices, experiences, and needs of workers, and
(2) Channeling that voice into a clear mechanism for remediation for those workers."
-- Issara Institute
If a company is in the early stages of the journey, without mechanisms or a commitment for driving remediation if exploitation is found in its supply chains, the company should be aware that collecting information directly from workers may actually place workers at further risk.
Instead, focus on the comprehensiveness and quality of information collected through due diligence efforts to minimize the potential of collecting false positives or exposing workers to risks of reprisal. At the same time, work to establish mechanisms for safe, effective remediation if signs of risk are detected so ethical supply chain management becomes possible.
Critical information to know about worker voice
Technologies to support worker engagement
Technology-driven innovations have streamlined the data collection process, improving the chance that workers are able to provide feedback at a time and place that is convenient and safe for them.
Improving the scope and uptake of worker feedback technology, particularly for workers at sea, is a significant challenge. This challenging environment has led to significant growth in worker feedback technology and many mobile-friendly tools exist in the marketplace today for seafood companies.
Leveraging this technology can enable companies to analyze and act on data more quickly, potentially leading to improvements in workers' lives. Adoption of tech innovations helps companies transition to a worker-centric business model that recognizes the importance of workers in strengthening the bottom line. Although development of traceability methods and worker voice technologies has improved in recent years, it is important to note that technology is not a “silver bullet," but part of a multifaceted approach.
In an evaluation of worker feedback technology tools globally, Issara Institute found that a significant challenge to technology tools actually arises from the lack of ownership/responsibility for findings that are collected from workers, often without clear links to remediation from that worker data, as well as the nature of the questions asked in the first place which in many cases do not aim to uncover more serious human rights abuses.
WEST Principles: Companies can review the guidance outlined by the WEST Principles as a common set of guidelines for the use of technology in worker engagement.
Issara Institute: Companies seeking technology to support worker voice efforts can consult these recommendations on ethical standards and approaches for working with migrant workers and trafficked persons in the digital age.
Issara Institute: Companies can find more information on digital platforms that facilitate migrant worker engagement to improve working conditions in "Transformative technology for migrant workers."
Investing in worker voice - benefits to companies
While companies can benefit from a more satisfied and engaged workforce, there are additional benefits that can have direct impact on the bottom line. Specifically, by investing in worker voice systems, seafood companies can benefit in the following four areas: worker retention, risk management, public relations and reputation, and traceability and IUU fishing prevention.
This blog, from Oxfam, highlights four ways that business can strengthen the voices of workers in supply chains:
ensure remedy of worker grievances
Require that companies promptly and satisfactorily respond to human and labor rights grievances (e.g., restricted freedom of movement/retention of documents, physical or verbal abuse, nonpayment of wages) raised by workers.
Provide evidence of remediation.
Establish and implement processes for the remediation of worker grievances.
Track outcomes and settlements of worker grievances.
“Remediation and remedy refer both to the process of providing remedy for an adverse human rights impact and the substantive outcomes that can counteract, or make good, the adverse impact.”
When workers have been exploited in places of employment, it is imperative that companies initiate and complete full remedy to stop current harm, prevent future recurrence, and provide appropriate assistance to the victim.
Workers' needs for remedy can range from immediate needs such as food, clothing, to more involved longer-term needs including employment, psychosocial support, socio-economic stability, and legal assistance.
What to do if human rights violations are found in supply chains?
When supplier infringements are discovered in company supply chains, companies must choose what course of action to pursue. Companies should attempt to engage in improvements if the supplier is willing, as this creates the opportunity for real and lasting improvement in supply chains. Switching suppliers immediately may further perpetuate the infringements, allowing issues to go unaddressed by a new buyer, and allowing worker violations to be transferred elsewhere. However, after appropriate time and communication, if a supplier is non-responsive and improvements are not made, no longer doing business with a supplier can become an action for consideration.
If human rights or labor violations are identified in a company’s supply chains, companies should pursue the following actions:
Identify the instance(s) of non-compliance and take immediate action to improve victim situations. This includes specifying and tracking company responses to the violation.
Work collaboratively with suppliers to develop a Corrective Action Plan to address immediate concerns and root causes of the problem, and agree upon a timeline for improvements.
Ensure resources are available for suppliers to implement required improvements.
Establish a follow-up plan to ensure that needed corrections have been made.
Connect the correction to a larger management systems improvement plan.
For detailed guidance on implementation, consult Verité's:
support freedom of association and collective bargaining for workers
Require supply chain actors to uphold workers' rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and leverage market power, including participation in multi-stakeholder initiatives, to advocate for policies that support freedom of association and collective bargaining for workers.
Establish the right of workers in supply chains to freely associate and promote workers’ access to collective bargaining through unions and other collective negotiation instruments.
Why is association and collective bargaining important?
Freedom of association and workers’ right to collective bargaining is established in international standards by the International Labour Organization. In addition, many international established conventions and recommendations include provisions that require consultation with workers’ organizations and representative employers.
Critical information about what Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining mean for workers and companies
Understand Genuine Worker Representation, as defined by the International Labor Rights Forum's report "Taking Stock"
Genuine worker representation
Workers and their unions or other representative organizations, should be involved in all stages of design, training, implementation, and governance of social responsibility projects. Real-time worker-driven monitoring at-sea is a fundamental feature of genuine worker representation in the marine capture fisheries sector and requires access to electronic communication at-sea and an around-the-clock worker-driven complaints mechanism manned by qualified worker representatives.
Genuine worker representation requires workers' and their representative organizations’ involvement in all aspects of social responsibility initiatives and real-time worker-driven monitoring at-sea.
The rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are fundamental worker rights that enable the protection of other core labor rights.
They give workers a collective voice and a means to redress the power imbalance between workers and employers, thereby helping workers improve conditions and correct practices that contribute to forced labor and other unacceptable forms of work. These rights are particularly important for migrant workers on commercial fishing vessels, a group that is especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse due to the combination of limited oversight, discriminatory laws, lax enforcement, and unequal treatment by governments and employers.
Programs that attempt to ensure just working conditions must include workers and their representative organizations at every step of the process – from design through implementation and enforcement – to ensure the measures put in place actually address the needs of the workers the program purports to benefit.
Through this lens, full worker involvement in corporate social responsibility programs entails:
Examples of organizations that support workers
Thailand-specific recommendations: At this time, migrant workers are not legally allowed to unionize in Thailand. In order to support workers, the Thai Civil Society Organization Coalition for Ethical and Sustainable Seafood is seeking to improve worker welfare committees as a channel for worker voice and worker representation. The Thai CSO Coalition recommends the following six key criteria to support the welfare committee to move towards more effective worker representation:
Meeting frequency: Worker Welfare Committee meetings should be called and held if there are urgent cases in need of immediate attention.
Presence of key decision makers in the meetings: Company management should treat Worker Welfare Committees professionally and should be well-informed of the Committee’s decisions and discussions. Company staff with decision-making power should join these meetings in order to ensure management buy-in.
Proportional representation: The Worker Welfare Committee should establish clear and approved guidelines for the participation of worker representatives according to terms such as number/nationalities/gender, etc.
Free & fair election process: There should be clear and established guidelines for how representatives are elected to join the Worker Welfare Committee. This includes the ability to freely campaign for their positions and stances. Candidates should be treated fairly and openly to ensure that the election process remains transparent and without intervention from management/vested interests about who should be elected.
Rights, roles and responsibilities training: Trainings should be established to provide Worker Welfare Committee elected members clear guidelines and expectations for their role and responsibilities. These trainings should be independently conducted by relevant third-party NGO and/or trade unions.
Worker Welfare Committees should be established in ALL factories across the company's supply chains in accordance with the Labor Relations Act.
Finally, it is important to note that the Thai CSO Coalition strongly advocates that Thailand should ratify ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and ILO Convention 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining). Companies should enable workers to form and join trade unions without retaliatory measures to ensure that they genuinely commit to respecting the rights of all workers in their supply chains.