By Martin Banks - 26th November 2012
What is crucial for retailers, especially in times of crisis, is to maintain their integrity
The EU has been urged to do more to help improve working conditions in factories and farms worldwide.
Speaking at a conference in Brussels, Lorenz Berzau said it was "vital" for all interested parties, including the EU, to collaborate "on this very serious issue".
Berzau is managing director of the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), which aims to improve working conditions in some of the world's poorest countries.
BSCI was created in 2003 by the foreign trade association (FTA), which represents some 1000 retailers, importers and brand manufacturers in 22 countries and is one of Europe's main associations for trade policy and global supply chains.
He said, "Our experience teaches us that the complexity of today's supply chain makes it very difficult for any one company alone to successfully address labour issues faced when sourcing globally."
Further comment came from FTA president Ferry den Hoed, who said, "It is vital for companies to collaborate on this very serious issue if they are to have a positive impact on individual workplaces, as well as at the country and regional levels.
"The European economy is global. The supply chains of all our member companies are global. What is crucial for retailers, especially in times of crisis, is to maintain their integrity and reputation, ensure a high level of performance and invest in the future."
The conference, organised by the FTA and BSCI, was told that Bangladesh has expanded its position as a supplier for the European retail trade.
However, cautioned den Hoed, the low level of prices of goods from Bangladesh has its "dark side".
He added, "Compliance with social standards in the supply chain is still a problem that must be addressed."
In particular, he said, this relates to "chronically low" wages coupled with high levels of inflation.
He pledged, "Together with other organisations, we will increase its efforts for better compliance with social standards."
The association is pressing for further liberalisation in world trade which, it says, will help address the issue.
Despite the stalled Doha trade round, it was pointed out that the EU has completed 47 trade agreements, the majority over the last ten years, and is currently negotiating with 77 other countries.
The conference also heard that, with a more protectionist stance towards Beijing, the FTA is "concerned" about possible Chinese retaliation measures.
Its annual report said that over the last few years, demands for more anti-dumping procedures against Chinese manufacturers have grown.
"In the interest of beneficial trade relations, the FTA calls upon the EU and China to restrain from such a tit-for-tat approach," said Jan Eggert, director general of FTA.