Multinational companies in the general retail sector as well as in the footwear, clothing, toys industry, electronics or food and beverage sector, sourcing from a complex supply chain are very exposed to violations of labour rights in supplier factories and at the lower tiers of the supply chains, at the level of raw materials.

Following international campaigns denouncing human rights abuses occurring in the supply chain of high profile multinational companies in the 1990’s, in particular child labour, greater attention has been given to purchasers’ responsibility vis-à-vis their supply chains. Numerous initiatives, business-led or multi-stakeholder, have been established with the objective of improving working conditions for workers, through the adoption of standards, social auditing and implementation of corrective actions. Recently, major buyers have pooled efforts to harmonize standards across sectors, share information and contribute to the operationalization of labour and human rights standards within the production and sourcing processes. 1

Some of these initiatives have set up complaints procedures that workers and their representatives may use to denounce abuses taking place in the supply chain, and seek remedial action by one or several multinational companies sourcing at this factory. Individual companies may also have established workers’ hotlines or other forms of grievance resolution procedures. It is not always easy to determine which company the supplier where a violation occurs is producing for or what CSR initiative this company is engaged in. However, companies often appear on products processed by factories, which may enable to check what initiative this brand is participating in. Some initiatives publish the list of certified factories (such as Social Accountability International-SAI) while others say they are ready to provide the information if asked whether a factory is supplying one of its members (such as the Fair Labour Association-FLA).

The current section reviews some of these complaints mechanisms.