Norwegian Church Aid took the initiative to establish IEH - Ethical Trading Initiative Norway in 2000, along with the Federation of Norwegian Commercial and Service Enterprises (HSH, now Virke), the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and Coop Norway.
The initiative was inspired by the recognition that trade is an important prerequisite for development. However, trade must be conducted in a proper manner that ensures decent working and environmental conditions throughout the supply chain.
The trade union movement, voluntary organisations and the media increasingly laid bare the fact that Norwegian companies were contributing to breaches of fundamental workers’ rights in the supply chain. This simultaneously caused a growing number of business managers and owners to state that they needed practical help in dealing with the problem, which was new to many people. The aim therefore became to create a practical resource centre offering advice, competence building and forums for experience exchange. Complex problems required cooperation between business, trade unions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This multilateral approach remains a key strength of IEH today.
The establishment of IEH has shown and taught us that ethical trade efforts are about improvements over time – and improvement takes time. Ethical trade is a long-term objective that requires continuous efforts to be made. IEH and its members remain at the start of an important journey, which will clearly lead to real, positive improvements for workers and business in the long term. The problems are often complex, but sometimes only ridiculously simple measures are needed to improve working conditions.
More than 10 years later, it is clear that many of the big issues are yet to be resolved. However, ethical trade efforts are progressing, and we increasingly discover that a sustained focus on improvement leads to real change for workers all the way out in the factories. Businesses, consumers and politicians are devoting increasing attention to ethical trade. Decent working conditions and wider corporate social responsibility have now become key elements of both Norway’s domestic and foreign policy.
IEH is not a guarantee scheme, but its members have committed themselves to continuously working towards improvements in the supply chain. One of the ways in which members communicate the improvements they have made is through publishing annual reports on their operations. These reports are publicly available on our website and there are many examples of good results. However, there are no easy solutions, and the work requires commitment and perseverance.
Since 2000, IEH has experienced formidable growth in its membership. It is essential that membership continues to grow so that we can further increase the impact we have on supply chains globally. IEH will continue to inspire and guide businesses, organisations and public enterprises in translating solidarity with the very poorest into ethical trade.