Posted by Matthew Waller

Ergon Update – April 2023

Welcome to Ergon’s regular newsletter, covering our recent work supporting clients on human rights, labour standards and gender. The graphic above provides a snapshot of our work from January to March 2023.

Case studies

Human rights impact assessments (HRIAs)

Our steady workstream of HRIAs has continued into 2023, including stakeholder engagement in Cameroon, Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa. Meaningful engagement with a range of stakeholders is central to our HRIA process. For example, as part of our recent fieldwork in the Western Cape (South Africa), we interviewed over 200 workers across wine farms and cellars. In Cameroon, our local team spoke with 260 rightsholders across cocoa co-operatives in the Central and Littoral regions.

As part of our HRIAs, we always prioritise engagement with the most vulnerable groups – including migrant and temporary workers, smallholders and their families, and women. While impacts across these HRIAs are context specific, we observed common issues relating to health and safety, gender-based violence and harassment, discrimination, low incomes and living standards, as well as the heightened vulnerabilities experienced by migrant labourers.  Another consistent finding has been the significant pressures on producers in the current economic context – aggravated by commercial pressures that fail to accommodate for the significant rises in producers’ input costs – from labour, to fertilizers, to energy.

With our long running experience conducting HRIAs, we continue to adapt our methodology to best fit each unique project and client, as well as further develop robust, practical actions to address impacts faced by rightsholders. Please contact Catherine Morgans and Brett Dodge for more information.

Ethical trade risk indices

We have been supporting a retailer to better understand ethical trade risks in their food and clothing supply chains. This has involved leveraging our in-house human rights risk index methodology to assess risks across six human rights themes: child labour, modern slavery, gender discrimination, freedom of association, low pay, and occupational health and safety.

Our assessment covers 50 specific food ingredients across multiple sourcing countries, along with clothing, footwear, homeware, giftware, and beauty supply chains in more than 30 countries.

By bringing together quantitative country-level data alongside product-specific risks, our tailored risk indices provide our client with key insight into specific human rights issues linked to a particular products, as well as a broader assessment of the overall ethical trade risk associated with different product groups and sourcing countries. For the food assessment, we are working alongside another specialist consultancy to integrate a detailed environmental risk assessment into these risk indices.

This approach allows our client to ensure that due diligence across their supply chain is well-informed, and enables the prioritisation of mitigation efforts in areas where the most salient ethical trade risks exist. Please contact Sam Kelly for more information.

Mexico auto sector dialogue

Ergon is supporting a multi-stakeholder group to evaluate and establish a human rights grievance mechanism for the auto sector in Mexico. The stakeholders include German companies, NGOs, trade unions and public agencies.

As part of this work, we have been carrying out research and analysis on relevant human rights issues in Mexico and supporting a stakeholder engagement process. The engagement included participating in a visit to Mexico to meet with Government, business, civil society, labour organisations, academics and other groups. This was both a challenging and rewarding exercise and has served to move the project into a mode that is much more focused on the local situation and the provision of remedy.

We are now supporting the development of an action plan to establish a functioning grievance management process.

The project has provided some useful lessons. Firstly, managing multi-stakeholder processes always takes longer than expected – but also offers opportunities to support real change. Secondly, this project has again demonstrated the importance of visiting and listening to local stakeholders – particularly when designing effective remedy processes. Lastly, we have been reminded what an interesting country Mexico is. We are keen to build on the knowledge and contacts developed through this project to conduct further work in Mexico in the near future – not least for the food. This work is being led by Steve Gibbons.


In celebration of International Women’s Day in March, Ergon Director Kirsten Newitt reflected on our recent work in promoting gender equality. The blog includes a summary of our work on combatting gender based violence and harassment in the workplace, putting gender at the heart of Just Transition, boosting women’s employment in STEM and non-traditional sectors, seeking opportunities for women in the platform economy, and gender in the context of urban development.

Other publications

Below are some other examples of our work that clients have published so far this year.

We developed practical guidance to support the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Borrowers, other implementing agencies, and third parties in applying IDB Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF) requirements related to project supply chain management. This work was led by Steve Gibbons and Sam Kelly.

Ergon contributed to the development of the IDH Living Wage Action Guide, which aims to guide buyers, their suppliers and other relevant actors towards the most appropriate actions they can take to close living wage gaps. This work was led by Alastair Usher and Brett Dodge.

Through the second half of 2022, Ergon supported the ILO’s Office for the Caribbean and the tripartite constituents in Suriname to develop a third Decent Work Country Program (DWCP) for Suriname. The DWCP was launched in January 2023 and will run for four years. This work was led by Sam Kelly.

Other exciting news

New Berlin office

We are very excited to announce that we will soon be opening a new office in Berlin. We have exciting plans for the forthcoming year in Germany, so watch this space.

New arrivals

We are also very pleased to announce the arrival of Laura Fernández Álvarez and Iona Eckstein to our team.

Laura has joined as a Consultant and brings 18 years of experience in human rights, programme and project management, research, and teaching. Her consultancy experience has included advice to companies in a variety of industries on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. She was formerly a Corporate Legal Accountability Fellow at the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) and Head of Rule of Law at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Laura is a US trained lawyer, and member of the New York Bar.

Iona joins Ergon as a Researcher from her previous role with the UK government where she was working on international forestry policy and programming that aimed to reduce deforestation and safeguard local communities livelihoods. Before that she worked with a Policy Institute researching the gig economy and platform workers’ rights in South Asia. Iona joined Ergon in December 2022, and has already been working on several projects for Ergon’s corporate and DFI clients.

Felix joined Ergon in 2023 as a Researcher. Prior to Ergon, he worked with GIZ in a multi-stakeholder initiative on human rights in the automotive industry focusing on human rights certification systems and co-creating sustainable sourcing recommendations. Before this, Felix worked on impacts of infrastructure projects on local communities in Myanmar and social justice projects in Nepal. He studied Political Science in Berlin and Hong Kong and completed his MA at the Free University of Berlin.