German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil invited representatives of European governments, the European Commission, trade unions and employers’ organisations, international organisations, and civil society - as well as those of the academic community and companies - to present their ideas and policies for more responsible management of global supply and value chains in the future. The goal of the conference was to generate concrete momentum for a European action plan on human rights and decent work in global supply chains.

Europe should be a global pioneer

The European way forward: Working conditions and social standards in supply and value chains must be improved for all workers around the world. As a community of values and one of the world’s largest economic areas, these standards must be protected not just in Europe, but also beyond its borders. In concrete terms, it is important to implement the standards in supply chains, create a level playing field, predictability and legal certainty for European companies, facilitate sustainable consumption and strengthen Europe’s social model. That is why it is all the more important for Europe to contribute to a fair and sustainable globalisation and to act as a global pioneer.

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil noted:

We are the world’s largest internal market and have significant influence on the conditions under which the products on our shelves are made. That is why I am in favour of a European solution too. However, Europe must not be an excuse not to take action at the national level. We need both fronts: a Germany that is leading by example during its EU Council Presidency and a European understanding.

During the first panel with German Development Minister Gerd Müller and German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, there was broad agreement that is was important to lead the way at the national level and that a clear signal from Germany would boost the EU Commission’s initiative.

Safeguarding decent work

Together with Nicolas Schmit, the EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, and Didier Reynders, the EU Justice Commissioner, Minister Heil discussed the concrete potential design of EU level rules intended to enforce human rights and decent work in global supply chains. Commissioner Schmit especially stressed that trade union rights were part of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also became clear that voluntary action was a good thing but not enough. Companies were urged not to stand in the way of these changes since they were in their own long-term interest.

On the second day, technical workshops were held where participants exchanged views on how to achieve a smart mix of regulatory and support measures. An important question in this regard was what the member states and the European Commission could and must contribute. All in all, the conference thus generated concrete momentum for the design of an EU action plan for human rights and decent work in global supply chains in order to strengthen corporate responsibility across the EU.