Sustainability

12 December 2023

Human Rights Day: “Our employees have a crucial role to play”

Nicola Tanaskovic is the REWE Group’s Human Rights Officer. She explains how we implement the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act within the REWE Group, the results and challenges along the way and why employees have an important role to play.
Reading time: 7 min.

On 10 December each year, the United Nations marks Human Rights Day, highlighting the ongoing violation of human rights across the world. As an international trade and tourism company, the REWE Group has been committed to improving human rights and preventing their violation for many years. We have also been legally obliged to do so since 1 January 2023, when the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act (SCDDA) came into force. This is where our Human Rights Officer Nicola Tanaskovic comes in. The Head of Sustainability works with her team and various departments to identify, minimise and avoid risks to people and the environment in our supply chains and within our own business. In the following interview, she explains how the new law is being structurally implemented within the REWE Group, the results and challenges along the way and why employees have an important role to play.

Ms Tanaskovic, what does a Human Rights Officer actually do?

Nicola Tanaskovic: In my role as Human Rights Officer, I oversee the implementation of the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act within the REWE Group. Admittedly, the role sounds fairly abstract. The law sets out requirements that companies based in Germany with at least 3,000 employees must fulfil to protect people and the environment. From 2024, it will also apply to companies with at least 1,000 employees. In my role as Human Rights Officer, I check whether the measures in question are being implemented appropriately. I also monitor how complaints about potential violations of human rights and environmental obligations in our supply chains or within our own company are resolved. I report my findings on a regular basis to the board, which is ultimately responsible for compliance with the SCDDA.

nicola_tanascovic
About:
Nicola Tanaskovic

Head of Corporate Responsibility at REWE Group.

January marks the first anniversary of the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act coming into force. What challenges has the law brought with it?

Nicola Tanaskovic: The REWE Group has been committed to improving human rights, preventing child and forced labour and promoting fair trade for many years. With the SCDDA, there is now also a legal requirement to do so. Due to the REWE Group’s decentralised structure, implementing the law requires significant resources and the collaboration of different departments and companies. As the law did not come into force until 2023, we do not yet have any experience – the processes must therefore be regularly reviewed from a legal perspective and adapted if necessary.

How is the REWE Group overcoming these challenges and how has the law changed what the company does in the area of sustainability?

Nicola Tanaskovic: We have set up a central project team that coordinates group-wide implementation. Four colleagues from my team are working to implement the project and collaborating closely with various departments from the different companies within the REWE Group. Along with the central project team, we have created other new roles within the REWE Group. Implementation Officers work with other implementation officials to ensure that the individual companies within the REWE Group comply with the SCDDA requirements. Case Managers review incoming complaints and, where there is a legitimate case to answer, work with the relevant departments to formulate solutions. I am impressed by the expertise we have built up over the first year. And I am very proud of my team and my REWE Group colleagues who are all pulling together and have achieved a lot already.

On 10 December, the United Nations marks Human Rights Day, highlighting the ongoing violation of human rights across the world. What is the situation in the REWE Group’s supply chain? Have there been any complaints during the first year since the SCDDA came into force?

Nicola Tanaskovic: Our approach is clear: human rights are non-negotiable. We therefore take every complaint very seriously. Where there is a case to answer, appropriate action is taken immediately. I am pleased to say that it has rarely been the case so far. Nonetheless, we are working tirelessly to prevent violations of human rights and environmental obligations by implementing a range of measures. The violations that have been confirmed so far have mainly been identified in the upstream supply chain, i.e. with the suppliers of our direct suppliers. To exert influence on third or fourth-tier suppliers requires close cooperation with our direct contractual partners.

Let’s imagine a fictional scenario: A buyer reports to us that one of our Christmas tree suppliers does not have adequate health and safety measures in place to protect its employees.  What happens once we receive the complaint?

Nicola Tanaskovic: The complaints procedure follows a defined process that is set out in our rules of procedure. If complaints are received via the complaints system or by email, our Central Coordination Office checks whether there has actually been a violation of the prohibitions or protected rights set out in the SCDDA. These include the ban on child labour, forced labour, breaches of health and safety and the prohibition of harmful environmental impacts. The Coordination Office passes the case onto a Case Manager for investigation, who conducts interviews with affected parties, suppliers and relevant departments, such as Purchasing or HR. If the complaint is upheld, appropriate action is taken immediately. In our fictitious case, that would mean setting out the measures that our Christmas tree supplier needs to take in order to ensure that their employees are adequately protected at work. The effectiveness of the measures is then assessed at regular intervals. When the case is finally resolved, the Coordination Office reports back to the whistleblower.

What role do our own employees play in this process?

Nicola Tanaskovic: When it comes to protecting human rights and the environment in our supply chains and within our own company, our employees have a crucial role to play. We have therefore set out what we expect from our employees in our SCDDA policy statement. It is important for the REWE Group that all employees ensure compliance with human rights and environmental standards in their day-to-day work. It is not simply about their own behaviour, but also about the behaviour of colleagues and suppliers.

The present law only applies in Germany. However, the EU is currently working on EU-wide legislation. What do you expect from the policy?

Nicola Tanaskovic: It is many years since the REWE Group first called for an international solution. We therefore welcome the current EU debate. However, we should start thinking beyond the borders of the EU and work towards long-term global norms and standards. Global supply chains need harmonised international laws. As a German retailer, we could influence the protection of people and the environment in our global supply chains even more effectively with this regulatory support.