Fair Circularity Principles (Shift)

Anna Triponel

March 17, 2023
Our key takeaway: Are you using plastic packaging? Are you using recycled plastic packaging? Chances are you have many waste pickers in your value chain. Waste pickers collect as much as 60% of the plastic waste that is collected for recycling globally - they play a critical role in helping ensure this waste doesn’t end up in oceans, open dumps, or being burnt. These waste pickers suffer a range of impacts - from an inadequate standard of living, all the way to lack of recognition and social stigma and lack of decent work - amongst a cluster of many negative impacts. A group of fast-moving consumer goods companies - The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever - are calling on you (other companies!) to implement the Fair Circularity Principles. Developed in collaboration with Shift, and with support from Tearfund as well as WIEGO resources, these principles help companies apply the UN Guiding Principles to the waste pickers in their value chains. In short: recognise the value waste pickers bring, and take action to seek to respect their human rights - like any other supply chain worker.

The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever - in collaboration with Shift - have launched the Fair Circularity Principles, aka, ‘Principles for Corporate Engagement on Human Rights with the Informal Waste Sector’ (November 2022):

  • Need for principles and human rights impacts: The report delves into the pivotal and valuable role played by waste pickers in the value chain: “waste pickers collect as much as 60% of the plastic waste that is collected for recycling globally, diverting it from reaching oceans, open dumping, or burning, and mitigating the consequent environmental and public health impacts.” There is growing attention to this topic - with for instance, ongoing discussions at the UN Environment Assembly “on a new legally binding instrument on tackling plastic pollution globally, which seeks to encourage action by all stakeholders, including the private sector, and recognizes the important role of waste pickers in this context.” Waste pickers often face significant human rights impacts: (1) an inadequate standard of living (including inadequate income, lack of bargaining power in price setting, income instability and income insecurity), (2) lack of respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining, (3) lack of recognition and social stigma, (4) marginalization, discrimination and lack of inclusion, (5) exclusion from social and financial services, (6) child labor and child accompaniment, (7) impacts on workplace health and safety and (8) impacts on other conditions of decent work.
  • The relevance of the UNGPs for waste pickers: The report describes the fact that companies have not tended to engage with human rights impacts on waste pickers as part of their responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles - which is misplaced. The UNGPs are relevant here, since they apply to business-related impacts on people. There is also opportunity: “The opportunity to invest in informal waste sector value chains to improve efficiencies and improve environmental and social footprints is also under-explored.” There are a number of implications of the UNGPs that are relevant for waste pickers. These include the UNGP’s focus on the state duty to protect individuals within a state's territory and/or jurisdiction from human rights harms, including those involving business; the focus of the UNGPs’ on the companies’ responsibility to respect; a focus on identifying and prioritising impacts for attention as well as meaningful engagement with affected stakeholders; a focus on an expanded use of leverage and enabling remedy for waste pickers; the need to ensure internal business alignment and identify how a company’s own activities can play a role in making impacts more or less likely to occur; and addressing exclusion and planning for responsible exit.
  • Principles for corporate engagement with the informal waste sector: The report provides key principles that should inform corporate engagement with the informal waste sector, drawing on the UNGPs. First, recognize the critical role informal waste sector workers play In plastics waste and recycling value chains - which includes including waste pickers in local, national and international dialogue and policy-making arenas and in business decision-making. Second, “[a]cknowledge the responsibility to respect the rights of informal waste sector workers by preventing and addressing human rights impacts experienced by those workers, in line with the nature of the company’s involvement.” Third, “[e]ngage all partners in plastics packaging recycling value chains towards coherent and comprehensive approaches.” Fourth, “[e]ngage government actors to create enabling environments for rights-respecting business practices.” Fifth, “[e]ngage meaningfully with informal waste sector workers.” Sixth, “[a]pply a gender lens in efforts to address human rights impacts in the informal waste sector.” Seventh, “[d]rive local approaches, tailored to local contexts.” Eighth, “[a]dvocate for the inclusion of informal waste sector workers as relevant stakeholders in policy-making processes that may affect their livelihoods.” Ninth, “[p]romote greater integration of the informal waste sector into formal value chains.” Tenth, “[i]dentify and address barriers to promoting rights-respecting practices in the informal waste sector.”

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