It is the expectation that the private sector respect human rights in their own business operations and ensure that it translates to their supply chains. Yet, often companies’ human rights policies developed at the global level do not trickle to the field leaving significant gaps in performance in the elimination of human rights violations in supply chains. This is pervasive among the companies that operate in the food sector – supermarkets, food and beverage companies, and agribusinesses – that Oxfam assesses as part of the Behind the Barcodes (BtbC) campaign and Behind the Brands (BtB) program.
A piecemeal approach to tackling these issues will only reveal subpar results. Companies need to understand the part they play in contributing to human rights violations and develop supply-chain wide interventions to mitigate human rights risks and remedy impacts. The first step is for companies to establish robust human rights due diligence (HRDD) processes.
Oxfam has engaged on multiple occasions with companies operating across the entire food sector (agribusinesses, food and beverage companies, and supermarkets) to outline the efficacy of their HRDD. However, many companies continue to push back against developing robust processes, touting the presence of social compliance mechanisms as a barometer for assessing human rights impacts across supply chains. The BtBC campaign and BtB program have evidence from interviews, case studies, and monitoring and evaluations (MEL) and civil society experts that highlight the need for companies to incorporate HRDD. More importantly, checks and balances that companies have instituted have done little to prevent human rights abuses within the companies own operations and in its supply chains.
Purpose and Objectives
We have a trove of information and evidence about the consequences of business decisions of companies in the food sector on the human rights of workers, women, and farmers all the way to the field level. Yet, companies’ efforts to address human rights violations are inconsistent at best. For instance, the existing processes do not provide evidence of companies’ efforts to engage rights holders. This is most evident during the current COVID19 pandemic. The health crisis has revealed these companies’ failure to address human suffering among the people who produce our food. Women workers and small-scale farmers have been among those worst affected, while migrant workers have been put in vulnerable positions with no social protections because of their precarious working conditions. There is enough evidence to suggest that the private sector needs to address the role it plays in human rights violations, and relatedly, exacerbating inequality.
Companies have a responsibility to ensure respect for human rights in their supply chains. Up until now, they have made marginal progress, which is why we aim to use leverage. Among the stakeholders who can apply pressures to change company policy and practice are their owners and creditors. Financial sector participants particularly financial institutions can be powerful allies in our efforts to shape corporate behavior.
Our objective is to leverage the financial sector to advance HRDD among companies engaged in the food sector. There is already attention on and awareness of HRDD, though those calls are largely coming from investors in Europe. The Investor Alliance for Human Rights led an initiative to organize a statement by 105 investors representing $5 trillion in assets under management to call on governments to put in place mandatory HRDD for companies within their jurisdictions. However, there’s lesser support from US based investors to advance HRDD either because they do not have access to all the information, they believe that companies are taking adequate measures, or simply because there is low incentive to take action.
We want to develop a thought leadership piece that will use evidence gathered by Oxfam about human rights violations that are rampant among food companies. It will be brief and will answer the following questions:
- Are investors prepared to address exposure to human rights violations in investee companies?
- Why should investors be concerned about companies’ complacency on human rights?
- What can they do to mitigate human rights violations from their investment portfolios?
The consultant will write the thought piece in close collaboration with the commissioning manager. The consultant will spend 80% of their time in report writing and 20% on research for the report. The commissioning manager will also support the consultant by providing relevant research materials to the consultant that will be useful to write the thought piece. The consultant will prepare a zero draft which will be reviewed by the commissioning manager and will then incorporate two rounds of edits received from the team (see timeline below). The contents of the thought piece will be outlined as follows:
- Section 1: Introduction that includes an overview of HRDD and company responsibility outlined in UNGPs
- Section 2: Investors’ exposure to human rights violations in food value chains. The section will include:
o Evidence gathered from BtB and BtBc companies through BtB MEL evaluations, BtBC case studies, gender assessments from interviews with women rights organizations (mentioned below), and highlight information from the legal case of Nestle and Cargill V. Doe
o Company policies and practices with respect to HRDD, if any, and gaps in current practices.
- Section 3: In support of HRDD – This section will outline risks to investors from human rights violations.
- Section 4: Investors’ role in advancing HRDD – This section will serve as a roadmap for investors to advance HRDD with policymakers and companies. The recommendations will align with those in BtB 2021 report, BtB 2030 strategy, and BtBc spike report.
The second draft (after team edits) will be due to the commissioning manager by EOD, Wednesday, June 2, 2021 (more details on the timeline are below).
Consultancy Start Date – April 2, 2021
Zero Draft Due – April 30, 2021
First Draft Due for Review – May 10, 2021
Consultations – May 24, 2021
Revisions by Author – May 28, 2021
Second Draft Due – June 2, 2021
Maximum 5,000 words
Profile of the consultant
The consultant or consultancy team should have demonstrated expertise on (1) HRDD (2) Writing for a targeted audience (investors) (3) human rights related research and risk assessment (from a business perspective)
How to apply
Kindly submit expressions of interest to Sharmeen Contractor, Senior Advisor, Market Systems and Investors, Oxfam America at [email protected] by Tuesday, March 26st at 5pm ET. Shortlisted consultants/teams will be contacted for an interview.