Chain responsibility in practice: ‘SMEs often do not know where to start’ – Companies

The bills for a prudential duty in the production chains are mainly aimed at multinational companies and the most risky sectors. Nevertheless, SMEs should also do better with a sustainability policy. But for companies with limited resources, it’s easier said than done. Boris Verbrugge, researcher at HIVA, is working on a manual.

Abuse in production chains or services is mainly associated with insecure sweatshops or mining in distant lands. However, the way PostNL made the news last month brought the theme eerily close to home. An unfortunate exception according to some, according to others symptomatic of how the race to the bottom also takes place in Europe.

Abuse in production chains or services is mainly associated with insecure sweatshops or mining in distant lands. However, the way PostNL made the news last month brought the theme eerily close to home. An unfortunate exception according to some, according to others symptomatic of how the race to the bottom also takes place in Europe. The theme of due diligence in the field of human rights and the environment is at least very topical. Bills are ready at both European and national level to combat human rights violations or pollution through production chains. Whether those bills will actually be accepted remains to be seen. But many companies are not waiting for stricter rules to prepare for the future. For example, The Shift – a networking organization that brings companies, governments and NGOs together in the transition to a more sustainable economy – starts on Thursday 12 May with a series of workshops on how due diligence can be put into practice. ‘After the success of last year, many companies from a wide variety of sectors have also signed up for this edition. Finally, we selected 6 SMEs. They will be guided step by step in the coming months. It is the intention that they also exchange best practices with each other and that the know-how seeps down to their sectors’, says Brieuc Debontridder from The Shift.Tool ‘Such initiatives are not a superfluous luxury’, says Boris Verbrugge, who works. for HIVA-KU Leuven researched sustainable production chains. ‘An increasing number of companies are asking to locate possible risks in their production chains and adjust them if necessary. But where multinationals have the necessary budget and staff to dive into this, SMEs often do not know where to start. There are (international) manuals, such as those from the UN and the OECD, but they often remain very vague and are full of legal or technical jargon. Therefore, at the request of the federal government, we are developing a tool specifically targeted at SMEs. ‘But should SMEs be kept awake by the duty of care? Examples of existing legislation, such as on conflict minerals, show that in practice the rules mainly apply to large companies. This is also the case in the European bill: based on the text published in February, it is estimated that only 1 percent of all companies in Europe should comply with the stricter regulations. It is unclear how far one wants to go in Belgium: the proposal presented speaks of a duty of care for all companies, but at the same time recognizes that it is not possible for everyone to the same extent. According to Verbrugge, this is primarily an indirect consequence. “The interest in the topic does not really stem from a concern about impending legislation, but reflects the growing importance of B2B relationships and consumer reputation. From that angle, SMEs supplying to larger companies feel greater pressure to meet social and environmental criteria outside their chain to that supplier or partner. Research also shows that the cost of tightening legislation ultimately ends up on the shoulders of SMEs. But there are also other, more positive arguments for focusing on due diligence as an SME: such as your company’s appeal in the battle for talent or a greater chance of public procurement. ‘AvailableHow will the Belgian manual differ from the existing alternatives? “Of course, really detailed customization for each company is not possible, but we will be able to present a very concrete and accessible tool,” insists Verbrugge. “There will be two components. In this way, each company will, on the one hand, be able to make a self-assessment of the extent to which it is exposed to due diligence requirements (through customers or legislation) and the extent to which it is already prepared. to trade.with these expectations at this point.The business model plays a role in this, but of course also the sector in general and the partners we work with.The second component is an online toolbox for effectively managing risks and for integrating due diligence into business operations. These are very diverse issues: the practical side, communication, motivation among employees, etc. We will therefore state very concretely how companies best approach this elaboration. ” , and reporting on risks, do not place them in a linear order, but allow them to run in parallel: get started with the information already available and make adjustments based on any new results.We still have a lot of work ahead us and will also engage a few companies in the coming months for the necessary test rounds, but the tool should be ready in September. ‘

Leave a Comment