International manufacturing is increasingly organised in Global Value Chains (GVC). This means that when you buy a shirt in Europe, it may have been sewn in Cambodia, using cloth manufactured in China from cotton grown in Uzbekistan and coloured with dyes from India. As a result, individual choices made by consumers in Europe may have consequences that impact on the lives of workers and communities in multiple countries across the world.
By promoting the sustainable and responsible management of supply routes within global value chains, the EU aims to ensure that the choices made by European consumers do not undermine human rights, labour rights, environmental protection or economic opportunity in countries further down the supply chain. With its support in this area, the EU underpins efforts to achieve the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, many of which relate directly to sustainability and responsibility in supply chains.
The EU adopts a horizontal approach to policy formulation, based on Trade Policy Coherence for Development, and so ensures that its policies are better aligned towards the goal of greater sustainability in GVCs. Through its Private Sector Engagement efforts, the EU encourages businesses to invest more responsibly by enhancing market rewards for corporate social and environmental responsibility.
EC actions to support responsible business practices, both within Europe and internationally, are based on its Communication on CSR from 2011. This Communication aims to encourage companies to take responsibility for the impact that activities in their value chains have on society and the environment.
These values are also reflected in 'Trade for All' - the new trade and investment strategy of the European Union - and in the relevant chapters in the EU's trade and investment agreements, including the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). The GSP+ scheme also provides a clear structure for engagement with partner countries on sustainability and responsibility issues.
The Commission promotes CSR in the EU and encourages enterprises to adhere to international guidelines and principles, such as:
- the OECD's Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises;
- the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC);
- the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (MNE Declaration);
- in addition to a number of initiatives focusing on specific issues.