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Protecting human rights in global supply chains

Workers in a textile factory - Vietnam

Workers in a textile factory - Vietnam, © Godong

05.11.2019 - Article

The German economy is globally interconnected. It is important in this context that human rights are upheld in the supply chains. Experts are meeting at the Federal Foreign Office today to discuss how German embassies can support local companies in this Connection.

Germany has the most open economy among the G7 states (Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States). The foreign trade ratio, i.e. the ratio of exports and imports to GDP, is around 70% in Germany. Major German companies work with global supply networks, some of them covering tens of thousands of partners. So Germany benefits greatly from globalisation. However, this brings with it a special responsibility to help shape social and environmental sustainability at global level.

National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP)

The German Government’s key instrument for encouraging German companies to uphold human rights in global supply chains is the National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights (NAP). The objective is for at least half of all companies in Germany with more than 500 employees to have integrated elements regarding the implementation of human rights due diligence into their business processes by 2020.

German companies have strong international ties. Respect for human rights in the supply chains is therefore tremendously important. It becomes all the more challenging for companies in places where the states themselves provide too little protection for these rights. I very much welcome this exchange on tailor-made assistance abroad and the establishment of expert networks. (Dr Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid)

The Federal Government is supporting companies in this context and at the same time looking to see how German business carries out its human rights due diligence in practice. One tool here is the comprehensive NAP monitoring, whose first round of surveys was completed at the end of October 2019.

German missions abroad advise and assist companies in human rights issues

Along with the Chambers of Commerce Abroad and the business promotion agency Germany Trade and Invest, Germany’s missions abroad regularly advise German companies abroad about developments of relevance to business. Human rights issues are now a key element of such discussions. The German embassies build networks of partners in the host country who are especially familiar with the human rights situation on the ground and can help companies to avert or reduce risks.

Establishing expert networks

Over 60 participants from embassies, Chambers of Commerce Abroad, non-governmental organisations and business associations are meeting at the Federal Foreign Office today to discuss how the Federal Foreign Office can provide even better support for German companies abroad trying to implement the NAP. Opening the conference, Dr Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance, recalled companies’ responsibility.

Michaela Spaeth with conference participants
Michaela Spaeth, Director for Economic Affairs and Human Rights at the Federal Foreign Office, with conference participants (5 November)© AA

To this end, the event at the Federal Foreign Office brings together trade union representatives, legal experts and experts in local value-added from countries such as India, Mexico and South Africa. However, there is no standard solution for setting up networks to provide international support on NAP, as Michaela Spaeth, Director for Economic Affairs and Human Rights at the Federal Foreign Office, pointed out. Depending on the problems, main products and main business sectors, appropriate partners need to join together. Representatives of the German embassies in the Philippines, Peru, Ghana and Viet Nam, among others, will be talking about the possibilities the embassies have for providing support.

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