Ockert Dupper on how the Vision Zero Fund’s strategy on ‘shared responsibility’ and strengthening institutions can lead to safer and more sustainable supply chains.
In 2015, the G7 established the Vision Zero Fund (VZF). Administered by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the fund aims to eliminate work-related deaths and severe injuries and diseases by improving safety practices in sectors that link with global supply chains.
Q. What are the VZF’s objectives?
To work towards the vision of zero fatal and severe work-related injuries and diseases by improving OSH practices and conditions in sectors that link to global supply chains, and by strengthening institutional frameworks such as labour inspectorates and employment injury insurance schemes.
To that end, the VZF facilitates collective action through a model of joint responsibility. We believe that the root causes of OSH deficits in global supply chains can only be addressed if a wide range of stakeholders assume responsibility for doing so. The VZF, as part of the ILO, uses its convening power to bring stakeholders together to design and develop industry-wide strategies.
Currently, the VZF is operational in eight countries and in two supply chains: garment/textiles and agriculture. We work primarily in low-income countries, and a precondition for funding is the commitment of countries and stakeholders to the prevention and implementation of minimum labour, environmental and safety standards.
Q. Why were garment/textiles and agriculture chosen as the first areas of action?
In addition to providing employment to many workers around the world, and its integration into global value chains, the largely formal nature of the garment sector and largely informal nature of the agriculture sector provide unique opportunities for the VZF to test approaches, methodologies and tools in different settings.
We also acknowledge that each supply chain is different and will require customised public and private interventions to achieve effective OSH compliance. To that end, we start every country project with a comprehensive assessment of the value chain to identify the drivers and constraints for OSH improvement. The results of the assessment are then discussed with the stakeholders in the country to facilitate the development of the project’s actions and activities.
'Key public and private stakeholders need to be willing to take collective and collaborative action'
Q. What is the OSH picture in those initial areas?
In the garment industry, there have been significant advances in OSH since tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster. However, we also know from the available compliance data that improvements are often episodic and unstable. This is why it is so important to identify and address the root causes for non-compliance with OSH standards, which often lie in practices such as excessive hours of work or the purchasing practices of international buyers.
Agriculture is one of the most hazardous sectors worldwide. In several countries, the fatal accident rate in agriculture is double the average for all other industries.
Our projects confirm that there are a wide range of workplace hazards associated with agriculture, including those from hazardous machinery, chemicals – especially pesticide poisoning – other toxic or carcinogenic agents, transmissible or infectious diseases, dust exposure and ergonomic hazards.
Other adverse factors, such as remote locations, precarious housing, low-quality nutrition, high prevalence of epidemic and endemic diseases, lack of access to drinking water and sanitary facilities, and exposure to extreme weather conditions is aggravated by the absence, or low standard, of health and medical services available in rural settings.
Q. What will be the focus of the second phase?
We will place greater focus on linking country project implementation to generate knowledge and learning, and in sharing and disseminating that knowledge to accelerate the development of industry-wide policies.
Our steering committee recently authorised work in another highly hazardous sector, construction. Pilot activities will soon commence in both Myanmar and Madagascar. We are also setting up a new VZF project in Vietnam focusing on the coffee supply chain.
Q. The ILO has published a report Work for a brighter future. What would you say are the key challenges facing us?
In respect of OSH, four major transformations in particular should be highlighted: technology, demographics, climate change and changes in work origination.
While these changes can create many opportunities – for example, robotics and exoskeletons can reduce need for workers to carry out dangerous or mundane tasks which can cause stress or musculoskeletal disorders – many of the impacts can be negative, such as exposure to new chemical or biological risks or electromagnetic fields. It is imperative that those of us who work in OSH continuously assess the changes to ensure that we enhance the positive impacts while mitigating the challenges that come with it.
Q. What role do you see OSH professionals having in initiatives on ‘joint responsibility’ for safer and more sustainable supply chains?
For our model of joint responsibility to work, key public and private stakeholders need to be willing to take collective and collaborative action to address industry-wide OSH challenges. Not only does this include the ILO’s tripartite constituents – governments, workers and employers – but also OSH professionals and organisations such as IOSH, which are important partners in the process of helping the VZF develop industry-wide solutions.