Worker voice scores poorly across the benchmark, as companies demonstrate little to no effort to engage with workers in their supply chains or to support freedom of association in their supply chains, beyond policy requirements. Although more than half of the companies disclose a grievance mechanism is in place that can be used by suppliers’ workers (25 out of 38), only eight make clear how they communicate the mechanism to them. However, despite low scores overall, companies that are taking action on worker voice are demonstrating good practices. Unilever and Tesco, which score highest in the theme, achieve a score more than four times higher than the average theme score. Additionally, although engagement with workers in agricultural supply chains is challenging due to the isolated nature of the work, some companies have demonstrated ways to reach such workers. Teams from Walmart, for example, disclose that they have interviewed and engaged with workers at the far end of its supply chains (e.g., workers on tuna boats in Southeast Asia).
However, the majority of companies do not disclose any efforts taken to engage with workers in their supply chains on their labor rights. Six out of 38 companies disclose engaging with their suppliers’ workers on the issue of labor rights specifically. Wilmar discloses that it has been working with unions in Indonesia to help workers understand their rights. Notably, Unilever discloses evidence of the positive impact of engaging with suppliers’ workers. Following training delivered to workers at its largest tea supplier in Kenya in collaboration with the Ethical Tea Partnership, it reports that 97% of the supplier’s staff had an understanding of the issues and policies to prevent discrimination and harassment (a 77% improvement), and 80% understood grievance procedures (a 40% improvement).
Only five out of 38 companies disclose how they work with suppliers to improve their practices concerning freedom of association, either by providing guidance to suppliers or giving examples of how they have worked with suppliers to improve their practices, beyond policy-level commitments. Tesco reports working with suppliers to ensure that trade union representatives are not discriminated against and actively participates in bilateral negotiations to resolve disagreements where there are complaints of discrimination. Unilever reports that it worked with its suppliers to ensure that trade union members are not retaliated against. After discovering non-conformances relating to freedom of association, Unilever required the suppliers in question to develop policies that allowed the formation of workers’ unions, train staff on those policies, and ensure the agreed-outcomes meetings with unions were documented and addressed. Three companies report working with local or global trade unions (Coca-Cola, Tesco, and Unilever) to improve freedom of association in their supply chains. Unilever conducts a biannual consultation forum with the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations. It states it focuses on key commodities such as palm oil and tea and pays close attention to working conditions for women in those sectors.
Twenty-five out of 38 companies disclose a grievance mechanism which is available to suppliers’ workers and external stakeholders. For companies included in the 2016 benchmark, the number of companies disclosing a grievance mechanism for suppliers’ workers has increased from 11 to 15. PepsiCo has developed a grievance mechanism specifically for third parties in its agricultural commodity supply chains to raise social and environmental concerns, and Wesfarmers discloses a wages and conditions hotline for farm and factory workers, with a view to ensuring that workers in its supply chains are treated fairly. However, only three companies demonstrate how the mechanism is communicated to workers in their supply chains. For example, Coca-Cola uses supplier audits to determine whether grievance mechanisms are in place and if worker satisfaction with grievance mechanism outcomes is tracked.
Only four companies disclose data on the practical operation of their grievance mechanism (Archer Daniels Midland, Nestlé, Tesco, and Wilmar), including the type or number of grievances by suppliers’ workers or their representatives. Five companies state that their mechanism is available to workers below the first tier of their supply chains, but Wilmar was the only company to provide evidence that its mechanism is used by such workers further down its supply chains. Without providing such evidence, companies cannot show that, in practice, workers are able to use their voice and access trusted grievance mechanisms, which is especially important given the difficulties faced by agricultural workers in relation to worker voice.
Despite methodology changes which make it more difficult to achieve a higher score, companies included in the 2016 and 2018 benchmark have improved their disclosure on grievance mechanisms. In particular, Danone, Kraft Heinz, and Wilmar have significantly improved their score on grievance mechanisms. Wilmar now discloses a list of grievances filed, including stakeholders involved and the date and type of grievance. It additionally makes clear that its grievance mechanism is available to and used by workers below the first tier of its supply chains by disclosing a complaint made by an NGO on behalf of workers in Malaysian grower plantations. Danone and Kraft Heinz have established a grievance mechanism for suppliers’ workers since 2016.
Less than half of the companies (17 out of 38) state that their supply chain standards are available in the languages of suppliers’ workers. Thirteen companies make language versions available on their website. However, only eight companies disclose how they ensure that their supply chain standards are communicated to workers in their supply chains. Walmart, for example, requires suppliers to display posters, which include signs of forced labor and human trafficking, excessive working hours, discrimination, and unsafe working conditions, in its facilities. The posters also include details of Walmart’s grievance mechanism and have been produced for over 50 countries. Campbell Soup states that it requires suppliers to communicate the standards in its supplier code to their workers, and suggests doing so by posting the code in a prominent place in the workplace, hosting meetings or trainings on the standards of the code, or communicating it through online channels. No company provided details on how it ensured communication of the code beyond posters.