“Sometimes when I go to Indonesia, you go into plantations and you see kids – that breaks my heart.” These are the words of Hilary Thompson, the Head of our Respect Programme. No contracts, no voice, no rights and sometimes children working; this is what life is like for some on smallholder farms, plantations and quarries, places which are deep within the supply chains of global businesses. This is where we go to make things fairer for workers.
These supply chains are complex, but follow them to their ends and you will often find social issues. The people working there are in what is often known as the informal sector – a place that is left un-monitored, yet rife with poor working conditions and lacking in any employee benefits. Yet these people are responsible for the contents and ingredients of much of our food, cosmetics and medicine, even things like our kitchen worktops.
Above: TFT’s Girish Kowale talks about our Respect work in India
We have been tackling social issues for nearly as long as we’ve been protecting forests. Having started looking at worker issues around forests in 1999, we moved on to worker welfare in the stone industry in the mid-2000s. If there’s one thing we have learnt in this time, it’s that bog-standard – as done now – audits don’t improve lives for workers in plantations, quarries and factories around the world. Visiting once is not enough. We go to sites on many occasions. Our findings are used as a jumping-off point to engage sites in a collaborative way.
We have been tackling social issues for nearly as long as we’ve been protecting forests. Having started looking at worker issues around forests in 1999, we moved on to worker welfare in the stone industry in the mid-2000s.
Above: Listen to Hilary Thompson talk to Innovation Forum in this seven minute podcast about why audits are just expensive pieces of fiction.
These workers don’t ask for much. Progress for them could be a bus to take them from their accommodation to the plantation, quarry or factory they work at; or a bed, rather than the floor, to sleep on; but mainly, they just want to be treated with respect; the kind of respect we would all like to be treated with ourselves. Protecting the planet is vital, but we need to protect people, too.