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Sustainability within the Retail Sector

The need for sustainability within our economy has been hammered into our minds for quite some time. However, it has yet to translate into evident change within our business models and processes. We sometimes need help understanding how to reflect sustainability within our day-to-day business without severely impacting our bottom line.

The truth is that sustainability and profitability can be something other than a tug-of-war. Oppositely striving to achieve one will contribute to the other side of the coin, creating a win-win situation. However, this may not be easy to achieve, but it’s never too late to kick-start the process.

There are so many different areas of sustainability that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer level of information. Given this, we thought of tackling one area at a time, starting with Human Rights, which is particularly close to the heart of society.

Let’s start by asking whether it is so close to heart. Watching the news and criticising some gruesome shots is one thing, but reviewing our human rights impact as a business may not come as naturally. As the first of a series of articles, today we’d like to outline some areas that human rights delve into, as it’s a hugely diverse topic.

Child Labour

Child labour is the first on the list. The united nations estimate that around 218 million children are working full-time. As many of us have helped our parents and relatives and their jobs, let us define child labour as it may be a bit of a blur. The international labour organisation defines child labour as: “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.”The impacts that we are looking at would be:

  • Mental, Physical, and Social Impacts

  • Interference with their schooling

  • Any work deemed to be morally dangerous and harmful

Health and Safety

Another key aspect of human rights is the right to health and safety within our job. The European Commission, in its strategicstrategic framework on health and safety at work 2021-2027, has determined that Protecting people from health and safety hazards on the job is a key element of achieving sustained decent working conditions for all workers.” When tackling health and safety, we are moving beyond basic safety physical features and delving into the psychological risks related to the job.

Forced Labour

Another hot potato within human rights is forced labour. Many may deem Malta relatively free from forced labour, but we may have to re-think this. The ILO defines forced labour as: “Forced or compulsory labour is all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.” Moreover, the anti-slavery organisation believes that the industries where forced labour is most commonly found are:

  • Agriculture and fishing

  • Domestic work

  • Construction, mining, quarrying and brick kilns

  • Manufacturing, processing and packaging

  • Prostitution and sexual exploitation

  • Market trading and illegal activities

If we had to go back to our favourite news portals, we would find several articles that have enquired about this issue within our country. Migrants are particularly at high risk of experiencing forced labour. However, it doesn’t stop there. Numerous vulnerable groups are at a higher risk of experiencing forced labour.

Women’s Rights

Rather than defining women’s rights, as at times, they may be taken for granted, let’s focus on the five key areas which the UN and EU, through the document Empowering Women at Work, have determined to be of particular importance for companies

  • Achievement of equal pay for work of equal value

  • Prevention and elimination of violence and harassment

  • Creating a harmonious work-life balance for both women and men

  • Equal representation of women in business and management roles

  • Investment in a future of work that works for women

When looking into each area, it may be hard not to identify at least a couple of them where we may still need to catch up.

My workplace does not have any issues…..

We need to explore other areas that will be delved into in the upcoming articles. So far, we have yet to explore the practical side of it all, and the areas covered may not seem particularly important for our work due to the nature of the industry we are involved in. However, in terms of sustainability, we need to shift our focus. For a business to be truly sustainable, we cannot just focus on the four walls of our place of work. Oppositely there are other areas that we have to look into, such as:

  • Our Supply Chains

  • The consumers

  • The community members

In this light, we recommend backtracking on our conclusions and having a more holistic look at our business, moving beyond our office or production line and genuinely looking at the impact we are potentially having on human rights. The final question we must ask is: What can I do better?


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