Worker Wellbeing in the Supply Chain

As the year comes to an end and a new one begins, most of us start to think about our health. We control our diets and our physical activity, but we have limited control over where we spend most of our time: work. Worker-wellbeing and work-life balance has become a global conversation with countries taking different approaches with 4 day work weeks, flexible hours, and work-from-home policies. However, the hidden faces of large corporations, especially manufacturers, don’t get much attention on a global scale or on the policy front. Worker-wellbeing is poor, underlooked, and sometimes horrific in global supply-chains. Incidents such as the Rana Plaza in 2013 where thousands of garment workers were crushed to death, mass suicides in 2018 China, or massive protests on low wages and exploitation in Bangladesh in January 2019, only to be met with tear gas and rubber bullets clearly showcases that the lack of social leverage, dignity in work, respect, and wellbeing is fairly common in global supply chain workers. Placing importance on the needs of all those throughout global supply chains is imperative for their health and wellbeing and the economic stability of global corporations.

Recently, with an increasing scrutiny in sustainability and human rights practices in public forums, many corporations and international policies have had to be put in place and adhered to, in order to mitigate negative publicity. India’s labour laws have been a long time in the making, with most of the country working in the informal sector, the Government needed to take a wide blanketed approach in ensuring everyone’s health and safety. In 2020, The Central Government of India passed an Act, Code 4, titled “THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY, HEALTH AND WORKING CONDITIONS CODE, 2020”. It replaced 13 previously existing acts including the Factories Act of 1948 and outlined the individuals covered under the code, the responsible parties to uphold set standards, and what constitutes hazardous working conditions.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in India is especially important to those working in factories, construction, and industries that most commonly fall under the umbrella of “supply chain”. Currently only 15% of workers worldwide have access to specialised occupational health services. They mostly carry out prevention of occupational risks, health surveillance, training in safe working methods, first aid and advising employers on aspects related to occupational health and safety.

However, even with the passing of this new Act, the code does not provide a judicial mechanism for hearing disputes for worker health and safety. For this reason, oversight and accountability is still minimal. There are 2.78 million individuals who die every day around the world from occupational related injuries and diseases. In India, an estimated 17 million occupational injuries occur every year, and 45,000 fatal injuries. Between 2017 to 2022, Government data has shown that 3 workers die everyday due to occupational hazards. The Government has laid out guidelines and the onus now falls on companies to do better by their employees. Occupational Health and Safety should be a right for all workers and this should be reflected in supply chain contracts across the globe. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also laid out detailed safety standards and guidelines for different industries involved in supply chain work. New technologies are also finding their way into worker well being in global supply chains where bureaucracies may fail due to such large oversight. Grievance redressal mechanisms through worker phones and anonymous feedback are now possible. Corporations now need to find innovative ways to listen and address these issues before they create health and economic issues in the lowest rungs of their companies. In order to do this, first and foremost, private companies need to believe that the right to work in dignity is part of their company’s vision, for all their employees.


  1. Gonazles, Aramcha, and Marion Jansen. “Working Conditions in Global Supply Chains.” Women Shaping Global Economic Governance, International Trade Centre, London, 2019, pp. 89–91.
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