Tool 2

Communicating Decent Work to Suppliers

When and How to Communicate About Decent Work

Social compliance could be incorporated into the selection criteria for new suppliers, which would ensure that new suppliers share your companies’ commitment to decent work.

Engaging with your suppliers on decent work requires time and resources. Language, technology, geography (i.e. different time zones) are a few of the issues that can pose challenges. Also, many decent work issues are difficult to identify (child labour, for example, is well understood to be a "hidden violation" and is highly unlikely to be picked up by most audits) and may often lie deeper within your supply chain. Complex and non-transparent supply chains can complicate this exercise.

Share this toolkit with your suppliers and encourage them to use it with their suppliers.

You should also share and explain your company’s policy or code of labour practices/code of conduct before making a contractual agreement to highlight what your values and expectations for suppliers are. Asking your suppliers for their commitment will make it easier to raise possible issues on decent work later on.

Communication channels

There are many ways in which you can communicate about decent work to suppliers, for example:

  • In regular company communications with your suppliers or at supplier conferences
  • In individual supplier meetings pre-, during or post contract
  • During supplier visits
  • Through online tender processes, where these are in place
  • Through awareness-raising and training sessions

WHO should you communicate with?

You can start by picking some important or strategic direct suppliers with reputations for greater risks of decent work deficits (e.g. suppliers of a commodity known to have higher risks). Conducting human rights due diligence in the supply chain will help businesses understand and identify where the biggest risks are.

HOW should you communicate?

Tackling the issue of decent work with suppliers is as much about HOW you convey your messages as it is about WHAT you say. The right environment, time, tone and approach will help you make greater and faster progress. Trust is key in this process - You should explain to your supplier that it is a shared responsibility — you are also committed to doing your share.

When faced with communication challenges that could include differences in understanding, expectation, or support for decent work, think about how to create a safe space for the decent work conversation. Trust building will require time and investment; this is not an easy exercise. Consider some of the questions below in understanding your unique relationship with suppliers:

  • What are the terms of the relationship with your supplier? Some of these might be implicit or unacknowledged.
  • Where does the power and leverage in the relationship lie? How could this influence your conversations with suppliers?
  • What do you think your suppliers’ objectives are? To impress you? To gain work? To not lose existing work?
  • What are the language or cultural differences that affect your suppliers’ understanding of decent working conditions?

Explore more questions and topics with the Communication Challenges handout.

Communication Challenges Topics to consider when navigating how to communicate about decent work

Here are examples of possible gaps between your and your suppliers’ understanding of the expectations for decent work:

  • There may be a gap between your understanding of decent working conditions, and the cultural and business context the supplier is operating in
  • There may be a difference among suppliers in their understanding of decent working conditions, especially among large suppliers and SMEs
  • There may be language issues which means that all parties may not have the same understanding of your expectations – consider using simple translation mechanisms or translators where relevant
  • Refer to the national law, and where it is lacking, to relevant internationally recognized labour standards
  • Avoid technical jargon or terms used within the larger multinational that may not be familiar to those without insider knowledge
  • Think of how you can offer an alternative view of what is possible for the supplier to achieve
Communication Challenges

Topics to consider when navigating how to communicate about decent work


Strategies to address communication challenges