Better Jobs in Better Supply Chains

Briefing for Business nº5

Published: 22 March 2010

This is the fifth in a series of Briefings for Business that Oxfam has published recently, the purpose of which is to offer ideas and insights into topical poverty issues and what they mean for business.

Oxfam believes business plays a key role in poverty reduction by creating jobs that enable people to work their way out of poverty. There is a growing body of evidence that better labor standards also benefit business by boosting sales, staff recruitment and retention, and supply chain productivity. Sustainable, green and ethical are moving from the margins to the mainstream. Is your business prepared?

'Better Jobs in Better Supply Chains' sets out two key labor issues based on Oxfam’s current analysis and two business behaviors that hinder rather than help. In each case the issue is explored and the benefits of addressing them are identified.

The four issues highlighted are:

  1. Precarious work and poverty wages
  2. Weak relations between management and workers
  3. Purchasing practices that undermine labor standards, and
  4. Over-reliance on audits

Leading companies, working with NGOs and trade unions, have started to tackle the root causes of poor standards. Case studies are included on initiatives by Adidas, Next, Marks & Spencer, ASDA George, Danone, McDonalds and many other companies. 

There is a tool to help you benchmark your company, a section on emerging issues and a list of resources.

Oxfam invites you to tell us about other initiatives in these areas, which we will collate and publish on our website later this year.

Summary of recommendations

  • Analyse the prevalence of precarious work, poverty wages and extreme working hours, identify their root causes and quantify their costs to the supply chain.
  • Support suppliers to develop human resource management skills and processes.
  • Encourage supplier companies to develop relationships with trade unions.
  • Reward better suppliers with more business, longer-terms contracts and fewer audits, linked to better contracts for workers.
  • Help turn the ‘race to the bottom’ to a ‘level playing field founded on decent work’ by supporting civil society campaigns for effective labor enforcement.