Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


State-sponsored body promotes ethical buying

December 2010

An influential inter-governmental organization with 127 member states has begun a ‘buy responsibly’ campaign to persuade global consumers to think more about the ethics behind the goods they purchase.

The campaign is an unusual step for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which spends most of its time promoting international co-operation on migration issues between governments. Most previous ethical consumer campaigns have come from pressure groups.

The IOM was established in 1951 with headquarters in Geneva and offices in more than 100 countries. Its funding of $1billion (£640m, €767m) a year comes from national governments. Almost all leading states are members, although China is one of 17 nations that have only observer status.

The IOM has enlisted Saatchi & Saatchi in Geneva to draw up the campaign, which will be started in The Hague and Warsaw this month and in London in spring 2011.

The campaign will encourage consumers to ask retailers where products come from and under what conditions they are produced – concentrating particularly on the exploitation of vulnerable labour forces.

It will urge consumers to write directly to retail outlets asking about the origin of their products, and will provide a template letter in various languages to help them do so.

In addition it wants individuals to mount local campaigns to raise awareness of supply chain ethics, and to start social media conversations on the topic, including dialogues on a specially constructed Facebook group called Responsible Buyers.

It does not pinpoint any companies it thinks are at fault, but campaign material suggests consumers could examine industries that have ‘proven vulnerable to human trafficking and migrant exploitation’, such as commercial agriculture and fishing, textiles manufacturing, construction and mining.

The IOM is not targeting any individual businesses, but says supporters should join existing campaigns ‘related to a specific product or brand’. This could involve putting pressure on laggard companies or rewarding those that have applied ethical codes of conduct in their supply chains. However, it does not specifically ask consumers to avoid products they feel are unethical, saying ‘the decision to boycott a product or company is a personal one’. It adds: ‘Consideration should be given to who will profit from and who will be affected by the boycott.’

The IOM feels the campaign will help further its general aim of improving the lot of the world’s 12 million migrant workers by putting pressure on companies for better conditions.

‘Until now, global counter-trafficking efforts have mainly focused on prevention and post-rescue assistance,’ it says, ‘but we believe a new approach is needed in order to tackle the global phenomenon of trafficking for forced and exploited labour.’

The IOM believes the campaign will help ‘tackle the demand side of trafficking for cheap labour and services’.

International Organization for Migration | Global | Consumer attitudes

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