Responsible Supply Chains in Asia Programme

Japan: examining the place of responsible business conduct in building resilience

High level and sector conferences look to chart the role of responsible business conduct in the region's recovery from the pandemic

News | 28 February 2021
Opening speakers at high-level ILO-EU_OECD event
TOKYO (ILO News) -  Recent back-to-back conferences in Japan, hosted by the Responsible Supply Chains in Asia programme, have heard the COVID 19 pandemic has exposed the distinct challenges economies and businesses face in ensuring supply chains are run on sustainable and responsible lines.

The first online conference titled ILO-EU-OECD High Level Event – the role of responsible business conduct in building resilience, perspectives from Japan held in January, saw high-level representatives of the Japanese government as well as representatives of the European Union, business, worker organisations, civil society and key experts come together to focus on the role of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) and International Labour Standards in building resilience in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to implement the provisions of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement related to trade and investment favouring sustainable development.

The Keynote speaker at this event Mr Hiroshi Tajima of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan noted that priorities had shifted under the impact of COVID.
“Many companies, regardless of size, face particularly difficult times, while the employment situation within companies is drawing more attention,” he said.

Ultimately though, the Government of Japan believes widespread adoption of RBC instruments in the context of Covid-19 recovery measures will help companies facilitate trust and support smooth business operations. “It (RBC) will be a great benefit in the long run. The Government of Japan will work with the EU, OECD and ILO to support dissemination of RBC throughout the international community, a level playing field, and free and fair business activities.”

This theme was echoed by many speakers at the event, including ILO Regional Director Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa. Japan, with its traditions tripartism, is already well placed to align practices with international standards. “ILO research including through the RSCA Programme has found strong harmony between existing practices in Japanese supply chains and key elements of the ILO’s MNE Declaration,” she said.

Also under consideration was Japan’s recently published National Action Plan on Business and Human rights (NAP). Delegates heard that the NAP sets out expectations for businesses, rather than mandatory human rights due diligence. The aim is to help Japan promote human rights as well as contribute to achieving the SDGs and enhance corporate value and competitiveness.

The practical application of these principles to practice was central to the second sector-based conference, Advancing Responsible Labour Practices and Sustainability in Global Supply Chains-Learning from Japanese Vehicle Parts Companies in Thailand.

The event centred around a presentation of an IDE-JETRO – ILO joint study in the vehicle parts sector to outline research findings including identified good practices and practical recommendations for stakeholders.
After the presentation, many Japanese businesses with supply chains in Thailand talked about their experiences in managing the continuing challenges of maintaining employment at a time when both the supply of materials and demand for finished products were under pressure.

A key theme to emerge was the use of mechanisms to control quality, cost and delivery (QCD) of the production throughout supply chains already embedded in their operation as a tool to promote policies around safety and occupational health (OSH), which in turn acting as a bridge to wider conversations about implementing solid CSR practices. This found to be leading open and constructive dialogue between workers and management that contributes to sustainable and resilient supply chains building on the mutual trust.

Strategies outlined include the localisation of the workforce. One company ensured that the clear majority of general managers were Thai based. Others stressed the importance of ensuring discrimination-free joint operations.

Establishing a culture of mutual trust between the company and unions was seen as key. Workers should feel that their contribution to the company's growth “led to their career development and improvement in their standard of living.”