The ETI says it is essential businesses and their supply chain partners identify risks and take pre-emptive steps to engage with suppliers in potentially impacted areas, to help mitigate risk to refugee workers, production, and business at large. They can also ensure that the structures exist to enable a response which is not just fast, but proactive.

“The sheer number of those forced to flee, made it immediately clear that displaced people were at risk of exploitation and seeking employment,” the ETI says in a blog post.

To respond to this risk, ETI convened a working group of trade union, NGO and corporate members and other allied organisations which has developed practical guidelines for suppliers on how to support the integration and employment of refugees and displaced people, with secure, decent, safe and fair work, with mainstreaming of gender considerations in mind. Beyond this, the guidelines outline measures to reduce the risk of abuse of workers who may be in a vulnerable situation, including risks of trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation. To support other companies and their suppliers it has made these publicly available.

Here are five lessons ETI says it learned from its collective effort to conducting human rights due diligence in conflict-affected and high risk areas (CAHRA’s)

1. Convene and collaborate

When crises occur, many stakeholders will individually initiate efforts to respond. This risks inefficiencies and duplication on a large scale. To best leverage our resources and avoid these risks, ETI rapidly convened and worked alongside key affected stakeholders; including 26 brands, two trade unions, two NGOs, three MSIs and one international organisation. Establishing this working group enabled us to identify synergies and opportunities for collective action. Building these networks before the conflict emerges can help pre-empt the impacts of a crisis and facilitate a rapid and large-scale response.

2. Build collective intelligence

Coordinating as a collective is not only more efficient, but it also facilitates knowledge exchange, sharing of good practice and helps to ensure decisions are made with well-informed information. Working alongside other MSIs meant we could benefit from the insights gained from our combined memberships and better identify the risks to workers and geographies where they were heightened. A proactive collective approach can also enable intelligence sharing in a pre-emptive way, allowing connected organisations to jointly monitor CAHRAs through shared information on key indicators.

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3. Collaborate across supply chain actors

Collaborations between buyers and suppliers as well as cross-sector efforts are essential to the successful implementation of the guidelines.

4. Coordinate collective efforts

In times of conflict, businesses impacted are typically under pressure to establish measures that maintain safety and stability. In a supply chain, this can see suppliers inundated with communications and heightened HRDD expectations from their buyers. To reduce additional pressure on suppliers, our working group mapped out the supply chains of members with sourcing relationships in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. This exercise enabled us to identify over 800 overlapping suppliers, with whom we could exchange information and share practical advice as one coordinated response.

5. Communicate and generate feedback

ETI response to Ukraine drew on lessons learned from previous responses to CAHRAs; specifically, the experience of Syrian refugees working in Turkey’s garment industry. Future crises will always call for contextualised efforts, but there are learnings that we can collectively develop and leverage to strengthen a proactive eHRDD approach in CAHRAs. Continuous communication among the members of the working group both during and post conflict, including gathering feedback from suppliers regarding the implementation of the guidelines, will offer crucial insights into lessons learned and areas we can improve.

“The conflict in Ukraine is not an isolated incident. The number of people living and working in CAHRAs will continue to rise with new waves of violence and economic crises in countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Ethiopia and Afghanistan to name a few,” ETI says in the post. “It is imperative that we plan accordingly, learn from the past and advance our understanding of how to implement eHRDD in CAHRA prior to crises. This is the only way to mitigate against the potentially devastating impact on communities that provide the goods and services we all rely on.”