2021 kicked off another year of uncertainty, we saw the proliferation of lockdowns and further restrictions on our ability to travel, as well as no end of supply chain disruption, be it caused by the pandemic or broader economic factors. That said, the overarching sentiment was a return to business as usual, if only from the perspective of a new normal. This thinking translated into our engagement on a living wage. At the start of the pandemic, we felt sympathy for retailers dealing with the devastating consequences of Covid-19 with furlough, redundancies and employee safety concerns being top of mind. However, in 2021, we took the view that there was no longer any excuse for inertia on this topic.
As highlighted in our 2020 update, the importance of improved employee pay and benefits increased. This is backed up by data disclosed in the World Economic Forum, The Global Risks Report 2022, where the ‘livelihood crises’ was flagged as the second most immediate threat to the world according to respondents. Here, the report notes that the “structural deterioration of work prospects and/or standards for the working-age population: unemployment, underemployment, lower wages, fragile contracts, erosion of worker rights etc” could cause significant negative impacts for many industries and countries over the next 10 years.
Through our engagement on a living wage, whilst we note some progress in terms of increased pay and benefits to the direct employees of retail companies, improvements for workers in the supply chain have been more limited. Through our work with collaborative investor initiatives and as highlighted in the Platform Living Wage Financials (PLWF) 2021 annual report, we note enhanced supply chain due diligence on the part of investee companies, for example, in the form of on the ground wage data collection. However, tangible improvements to worker pay is taking longer to come to fruition.