Use govt guidelines to examine companies’ supply chains

It is imperative for companies operating internationally to check whether there are human rights violations occurring in their business activities. It is hoped that companies will make effective use of the government’s new guidelines for that purpose.

The government has drafted guidelines to prevent companies from committing human rights violations, such as forced labor, in their domestic and overseas supply chains. The government said it will officially approve the guidelines as early as September.

Europe and the United States have led the way in dealing with human rights issues. One example is that the United States in June banned imports from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in principle, due to forced labor happening there.

Japan has lagged behind those nations in dealing with these issues, and many companies have been at a loss as to how to take appropriate measures. The fact that the government has presented such draft guidelines can therefore be said to represent a step forward.

As examples of human rights violations, the draft cites child labor and racial discrimination, as well as low-wage forced labor. The guidelines ask companies to identify whether such problems exist, including at their own companies, business partners and indirect business partners, and assess the severity.

In addition, the guidelines point to industries including clothing manufacturing, the mining of minerals and agriculture as areas in which human rights violations are likely to occur, and urge companies to intensively examine them.

When problems are identified, companies are requested to implement preventive and remedial measures, then verify their effectiveness and make the results public. The guidelines also emphasize that the ultimate responsibility for preventing human rights violations lies with management.

The guidelines urge all companies to respond. The government must make the content widely known.

Examples from major companies can be used as a reference when devising specific measures.

Seven & i Holdings Co. exchanges written pledges with its business partners in advance and conducts audits to prevent human rights violations. Kao Corp. even examines small-scale farmers in its procurement of palm oil, a raw material for detergents.

Teijin Ltd. has established a hotline in 24 countries and 19 languages to receive complaints from workers and others.

However, if there are many trading partners, there is a limit to how much research can be done by a single firm. Concerted industry efforts are important.

An industry organization for electronics manufacturers said it will set up an online system to solicit information from human rights groups, workers and others. Textiles and other organizations have developed industry-specific guidelines for their member companies.

Trading companies that do a wide range of business with foreign companies need to step up their efforts to gather information and take other measures in this regard.

At home, too, the poor working conditions of foreign trainees in Japan’s technical intern program have drawn stern criticism from abroad.

Against the backdrop of economic globalization, companies have so far sought low-wage labor and prioritized selling their products cheaply. There must be an awareness that such thinking has reached its limit.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 24, 2022)