How to Improve Safety and Health in Global Supply Chains

Each year, 2.78 million workers die from work-related accidents and diseases, and an additional 374 million workers are victims of non-fatal accidents. That equates to 7,500 worker fatalities every day as a result of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. While Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) hazards are intrinsic to all workplaces, global supply chains provide important opportunities to promote good OSH practices, particularly in countries that lack adequate national OSH systems. The COVID-19 pandemic and its related financial consequences are a reminder that a healthy workforce is good for business — and are essential to building resilient supply chains which can be linked to improved performance and profitability

Join this Academy session to learn from experts what actions can be taken to improve the health and safety of workers in global supply chains, and how these actions can be used to promote more effective national OSH systems — ensuring that no one is left behind and all workers are able to enjoy decent working conditions.


  • Owen Tudor, Deputy General Secretary, ITUC
  • Matthias Thorns, Deputy Secretary General, International Organization of Employers
  • Ockert Dupper, Global Programme Manager, VZF, ILO
  • Anne-Marie La Rosa, Senior Policy, Legal and Labour Rights Specialist, ILO
  • Masarrat Quader Syeda, Stakeholder Engagement and Public Affairs Manager, H&M
  • Neil McFarlane, Senior Vice President, Global Quality, Health, Safety Security & Environment, Firmenich
  • Mohammed Zahidullah, Chief Sustainability Officer, DBL Grou

Moderator: Vic Van Vuuren, Director Enterprise Department, ILO 

What we learned:

Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions often result from a combination of underlying causes, such as governance gaps, deficient legislative frameworks, insufficient knowledge and resources, unsustainable business practices, and the absence of a culture of prevention at national and workplace levels. Governments and enterprises have their respective roles to play to address this challenge.

Robust occupational safety and health (OSH) laws and policies and good business practices in combination including employment injury insurance schemes contribute to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals, including poverty alleviation (Goal 1), universal health coverage (Goal 3) and decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), amongst others

Companies can take a number of actions to advance decent work and ensure all workplaces and all workers are safe and healthy: 

  1. Map your supply chains to gain a better understanding of existing OSH challenges: Mapping a supply chain allows enterprises to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scale and nature of specific safety and health issues, and at which points in production these issues arise throughout the supply chain
  2. Include OSH and employment injury protection in procurement practices: Ensuring health and safety at the workplace is part of responsible business practices. Enterprises should strive to include in their procurement practices an assessment of compliance with safety and health standards by suppliers. 
  3. Improve the monitoring of OSH compliance, including through closer engagement with suppliers: The programmes enterprises can use to respond to societal concerns should integrate detailed processes to not only identify OSH risks and impacts but also how to integrate and act upon the findings, track the responses when required and communicate on how the challenges were addressed. 
  4. Promote vertical and horizontal knowledge and capacity sharing: Enterprises should provide support to suppliers to ensure that they can meet the expected standards on OSH (vertical knowledge sharing). Enterprises should also encourage their suppliers to share OSH knowledge, capacity and experience they have acquired across the rest of the sector, including with those suppliers who may supply only to the domestic market (horizontal knowledge sharing). 
  5. Align and complement the national legal and policy framework and be a driver for improvement: Obeying domestic laws is the first obligation of enterprises.  However, if domestic law is not aligned with international standards or does not offer the necessary prevention or protection against work-related injury, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) provide that businesses have an independant responsibility, in the context of the countries where they operate, to respect human rights through their own business activities and through their relationships with third parties – such as business partners and entities in their supply chains. 
  6. Promote workers’ participation and social dialogue: The autonomous representation of workers’ interests in OSH has been widely known as being associated with improved workplace OSH management arrangements and OSH outcomes among workers. 
  7. Support efforts to enhance the reporting, recording and notification of occupational injuries and diseases to improve data collection: As data on work-related accidents and diseases are essential for prevention, enterprises are strongly encouraged to improve recording and notification systems as well as data analysis in relation to workplace injury and assist their suppliers to do the same. 
  8. Engage with development partners to share knowledge of good practices and innovative approaches to build capacity and partnerships: Enterprises are encouraged to share knowledge of good practices and innovative approaches, and cooperate with relevant actors including international organizations. 
  9. Join international initiatives to support the development of national policies and strengthen national institutions in sourcing countries on OSH practices and employment injury protection: A feature common to most successful supply chain initiatives to improve compliance with good OSH practice is the multiplicity of coordinated actors and the actions they embody. They embody the coordinated engagement of a multiplicity of actors and move away from strategies adopted by a single actor, whether it be corporate, union or regulatory.  The Vision Zero Fund (VZF) — which aims to eliminate work-related deaths, injuries and diseases in global supply chains around the world —  is one such initiative.

Recommended Resources

  1. International Labour Standards on Occupational Safety and Health
  2. ILO Helpdesk for Business - Business, Occupational Safety and Health
  3. Vision Zero Fund
  4. Preventing and mitigating COVID-19 at work
  5. Employment injury insurance and protection


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