Government and retailers invest to support supply chains in developing countries

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The Government has today launched a new £7m programme in partnership with high street and ecommerce retailers from Marks & Spencer to Sainsbury’s to help strengthen global supply chains by supporting workers in developing countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The new Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility, funded by £4.85m in UK aid and £2m from retailers, will focus on supply chains in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana – where a large proportion of the world’s food, flowers and clothes are produced. Ghana accounts for a quarter of the world’s cocoa, while Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothing in the world. 

UK international development secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “We want to ensure people in Britain can continue to buy affordable, high quality goods from around the world. This new fund will strengthen vital supply chains for UK consumers, while supporting some of the most vulnerable workers in developing countries. It will make a real difference to people in the UK and abroad.”

How the scheme will work in practice

The scheme teams retailers including Morrisons, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Primark and the Co-op with organisations including Care UK, the Fair-trade Foundation and the Ethical Trading Initiative to improve working conditions and access to healthcare for workers in developing countries. 

M&S will work with Care to improve health services for 80,000 factory workers in Bangladesh whose products are stocked in M&S shops. The Ethical Trading Initiative will improve workplace health and safety for those supply vegetables, coffee and flower to brands including Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Waitrose and Tesco. And with flights disrupted from Kenya, the new scheme will enable farmers to ship their flowers to the UK instead, keeping UK florists in stock.

Some 20% of the UK’s food and drink comes from developing countries but the supply chains in those countries have been hit by the pandemic, with many factories and farms forced to close temporarily. More than 200,000 workers in agriculture and nearly 120,000 garment workers are expected to benefit, with as many as 970,000 benefiting indirectly.

Peter McAllister, executive director at Ethical Trading Initiative, said: “ETI welcomes the active role DFID (Department for International Trade) is playing in supporting vulnerable workers in global supply chains. The East African agricultural workers who supply so much of our food and flowers have been hit hard by Covid-19, and DFID’s support for this intervention will help protect thousands of jobs, and protect workers from infection as the regional economy begins to recover.”

Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s Brand, said: “We are proud to support DFID’s Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility along with the Ethical Trading Initiative, dedicated to improving occupational safety and health standards for many of our suppliers in East Africa. As a responsible retailer, this work further demonstrates our commitment to trading ethically and making a positive difference to the communities we source from.”

Fiona Sadler, head of ethical trading for M&S, said: “At M&S we have a robust approach to ethical fashion – we know we’re only as strong as the communities where we operate and we’re committed to helping improve the lives of workers in our supply chain through collaborative initiatives. We’re proud to be partnering again with DFID and CARE to strengthen healthcare systems and services in our factories in Bangladesh and the wider community.”

Commenting, Atul Bhakta, chief executive of parcel tracking software One World Express, said: “The Government’s new initiative to protect supply chains is very welcome, both for high street businesses and workers globally who are involved in their production and distribution of goods. And it could not have come soon enough. 

“Global supply chains have been severely disrupted by Covid-19. One World Express’ research shows that 36% of UK businesses have seen one or more companies in their supply chain close down due to the pandemic, while 42% have had to source new suppliers as disruption cut them off from their usual partners. 

“The knock-on effect of a single broken link within a supply chain can be vast – shelves can be left empty and customers are unable to get the products they desire, meaning high street businesses risk losing huge sums of money. So it is vital that workers are kept safe and supply chains are protected, thereby minimising further disruption and giving the retail sector the best possible chance of making a successful post-pandemic recovery.”

This article was updated on October 13 2020 to remove a reference to a supplier that was wrongly included in the original press release.

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