Particularly in developing countries, there are common threats to the health and wellbeing of the people who grow our food, catch our fish and log the trees we use for paper and wood.
These threats can include hunger, workplace injuries or harassment, lack of sanitary facilities, inadequate housing, exposure to toxic chemicals and no access to medical services when ill or injured. These threats maybe due to insufficient industry regulation and oversight, long-used hazardous industry processes, lack of worker or management training in factories and workplaces or structural challenges in our economies and societies. Regardless, action is urgently needed by governments, businesses and NGOs to reduce risks for workers, as well as to protect the health of surrounding communities whose air or water may be negatively affected by industrial processes.
Supply chain tools strive to improve worker health and wellbeing in many ways. For example, many standards require employers to provide free health care and housing for workers, protect pregnant women, provide social security and provide employees with protective equipment and training, whether they are applying pesticides, extracting natural resins from plants, or processing fish. In larger-scale industries, additional protections on managing processes that affect communities’ and workers’ air quality, such as emitting of contaminants are investigated. They can require companies to make incremental improvements in air quality in the airshed around their operations. In the artisanal mining sector, a major focus of mining standards and certifications has been the removal or reduction in use of the powerful neurotoxin mercury from the individual miner’s activities (quite prevalent in artisanal gold mining). In large-scale mining, cyanide management is an area where international codes and some certifications have worked to promote practices that reduce the risk of cyanide spills when used in mines as a processing reagent.
Often, supply chain approaches such as standards and standards-like tools are implemented in regions where laws and regulations promoting community and worker health and safety may exist but are not adequately and uniformly enforced. Improving compliance with local laws and legislations where they exist is an important roles these tools place. In addition, many initiatives convene local multi-stakeholder processes that seek solutions to these issues and work to raise the bar through seeking sector or industry-wide acceptance of additional criteria or principles go beyond existing laws. Some also operate other add-on programmes with local partner NGOs such as mobile health camps for factory workers in the apparel sector. These efforts are important for workers across entire sectors as well as their families, not just those who work for companies participating in a sustainability programme.
Efforts that standards and related supply chain sustainability tools take to reduce poverty through fair worker wages and improved business viability (such as in the case of farm businesses where profits and resilience of the operation directly equate with family income) are also an important means of improving health and wellbeing. These efforts are described in the sections Worker Wages and Rights, and Livelihoods.
Some resources that examine the impact of standards and other supply chain sustainability tools on health and wellbeing are as follows:
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