Sustainable and responsible supply chains

Sustainable and responsible supply chains

Sustainable and responsible supply chains

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:



/europeaid/file/eu-engagement-towards-sustainable-garment-value-chains-tracing-t-shirt-cotton-field-shelf_enEU engagement towards sustainable garment value chains: Tracing a T-shirt from cotton field to shelf

Given the complexity of GVCs, the sustainability and responsibility of supply can only be managed in close cooperation with other stakeholders. Consequently, a key goal of EU policy in this area is to strengthen its engagement with multiple actors, including in business and civil society. Sustainable and responsible supply chains imply that all external policies have a strong development dimension, and that cross-sectoral approaches are complemented by vertical sector-specific engagement.
The ultimate aim of this cooperation is to:

  • improve working conditions,
  • promote respect for labour and other human rights,
  • protect the environment in partner countries,
  • ensure that development is socially-inclusive,
  • defend the interests of marginalised sections of society,
  • ensure that local communities reap the development benefits of trade.

Another key goal of EU efforts is the fight against corruption. Corruption in cross-border supply chains undermines the rule of law and the developmental impact of trade and, to counter this, the EU's future trade agreements will contain anti-corruption rules. In pursuing an anti-corruption policy, the EU is aware that actions targeted at eliminating unscrupulous actors from supply chains need to be targeted and discrete and avoid having an unintended negative impact on conscientious and responsible companies and their workers.

To achieve its ultimate goal of putting sustainability and responsibility at the core of its development policy, the EU aims to broaden the coalition behind its efforts to promote responsible business conduct, with ongoing cooperation through fora such as the OECD, UN, ILO and G7. In so doing, the EU will ensure that, as developing countries are increasingly integrated into global value chains, sustainable and responsible business practices are put in place, as a guarantee that trade policy will support economic growth, social development, and environmental protection.