Human rights issues related to caste in global supply chains was a key theme at the seminar on vulnerable workers, held in Copenhagen on 12 November, organised by IDSN, the Danish Ethical Trading Initiative (DIEH) and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in the UK.

The room was packed and registration closed days before the event, due to a large interest from Ethical Trading Initiative members. DIEH Director, Mikkel Stenbæk, kicked off the seminar speaking to the importance of the new ETI caste guidance and the need for more action to be taken to promote and ensure the rights of vulnerable workers.

Peter Lund Thomsen, Professor at Copenhagen Business School, stressed the importance of looking beyond 1st tier suppliers to the very end of the supply chains and the need for always including the workers themselves in any attempts to remedy.

ETI Director, Peter McCallister launched the ETI Caste in Global Supply Chains guidance giving participants history and insight into the need for this new tool.

“I am proud and honoured to be here to launch the ETI Base Code Guidance on Caste in Global Supply Chains today … caste underpins so many elements of vulnerability that we must engage with caste issues if we want to address vulnerability,” Mr. McCallister stated.

Participants were given an overview of caste and human rights by Maria Schleimann from IDSN while the IDSN Director, Meena Varma, presented key practical tips and recommendations for taking action that included ensuring that businesses understand the unique form of discrimination arising from caste and always include the lowest castes in any planning, policy-making, action or reviews meant to address the issues they face including modern slavery, child labour and workplace abuse and harassment.

The Director of the Ethical Trading Initiative in Norway, Heidi Furustøl, also presented at the event speaking about how Dalits and other vulnerable workers in supply chains can be supported through ETI awareness raising, dialogue and cooperation and an increased focus on these issues at the global level. 

Speaking on tools to address vulnerable workers in business supply chains, Senior Advisor at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Cathrine Bloch Velberg, commented that the new ETI guidance on caste is an important hands-on practical document to address a key human rights issue and expressed an interest in seeing much more being done on this issue by businesses sourcing in caste-affected countries.

Gitte Dyrhagen Husager, Head of Private Sector Engagement, DanChurchAid stressed the need to also focus on civic space and the protection and support of human rights defenders when looking to address rights of the most vulnerable workers and Lea Rype Stavre Bohr, from the Danish Trade Union 3F, presented on the importance of labour unions when it comes to supporting vulnerable workers in understanding and claiming their rights.

Chaojun Li, from Danish energy giant Ørsted spoke about the need to look at the specific situation of migrant workers who are at particular risk of labour exploitation and reminded participants that “cheap always costs.”

Participants at the event asked many relevant questions of the panelists and the event ended with a networking opportunity with lively discussions and new connections being made.

Read and share tweets from the seminar below: