Human rights are strongly under-prioritized in Swedish companies, especially in the production chain, says lawyer Parul Sharma.


"There is great impunity for Swedish companies"

Sweden will not achieve the goals in Agenda 2030 if we do not improve our production chains in countries outside Sweden. That is the opinion of human rights lawyer Parul Sharma in an interview with Utvecklingsmagasinet.

There are now ten years left until the global goals for sustainable development in Agenda 2030 are met. Sweden is often considered to be at the forefront of the world and the Swedish government is happy to beat itself up when it comes to sustainability issues. 

Parul Sharma
Parul Sharma is a human rights lawyer and author.

Human rights lawyer Parul Sharma believes that Sweden is the country in the world that has the absolute strongest ability to take the lead in these issues. However, she does not believe that we are a leader internationally in issues such as human rights, social sustainability or reduced climate emissions. Sweden has long refrained from reporting the greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to production that takes place outside the country's borders. 

- If you look at our consumption data, we actually end up among the worst environmental culprits and are in the top ten when it comes to emissions, says Parul Sharma.

In the conversation with Parul Sharma, it quickly becomes clear that both Agenda 2030 and production chains permeate her work. She knew early on that she wanted to work on justice issues. After her master's degree in law in London, she started a career journey within a number of different organizations, institutions and companies. For a couple of years, she was chair of the government delegation for Agenda 2030 and her latest book The production chain - your responsibility for man and the environment has a special focus on goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production. The goal that is considered one of Sweden's biggest challenges among the global goals.

The majority of Sweden's production is in so-called high-risk countries and the largest consumer in Sweden is, according to Parul Sharma, the Swedish state. Sweden's procurements for the public social functions take place largely in high-risk countries such as India, Congo and Brazil. If Sweden is to become a leader in Agenda 2030, Parul Sharma believes that we need it invest on procurers in the public sector and buyers in Swedish private companies.

Parul Sharma thinks a holistic approach to Agenda 2030 need to get stronger in Sweden. We like to see the goals as separate boxes. She believes that we should instead look at the agenda as a gear, where the different goals cog in and are mutually dependent on each other. For example, the goal of fairer and more sustainable production chains has a strong link to poverty reduction, according to Parul Sharma. 

Parul Sharma has long criticized the so-called trickle down effect, which means that poverty decreases the more companies grow in the poor countries. In her critique, she is supported by a number of researchers. In many emerging markets where Sweden likes to do business, such as China and Bangladesh, the socio-economic gaps have grown. The establishment of factories and economic zones in high-risk countries has often also worsened conditions for the most vulnerable. India has over 400 million people in the informal economy. According to Parul Sharma, it is largely people from the traditional agricultural sector who, often without compensation, have got rid of its agricultural land.

- It is not the case that factories and industrial land have just "popped up" from nowhere, says Parul Sharma.

For the past 20 years, Parul Sharma has devoted a large part of his working life to reviewing Swedish companies' supply chains. She believes that the biggest challenge for Swedish supply chains is that they have not included the right to review the entire chain, as subcontractors and subconsultants. When she has done her audits, she has discovered that pollution of water, heavy chemical spills and gross exploitation of workers mainly take place at subcontractors, not infrequently already in the second and third stages. Parul Sharma's audits show that eight out of ten subcontractors in South Asia have slave workers in their operations.

- Very often it is the same units that have never even thought about how air, water and land are damaged by their production, says Parul Sharma.

PArul Sharma conducts interviews with workers in the manufacturing industry.
For 20 years, Parul Sharma has examined production and supply chains in high-risk countries.

The reason why Swedish companies are allowed to conduct climatically and socially unsustainable production in other countries is mainly due to the lack of legislation, says Parul Sharma. In many of the high-risk countries, the legal implementation is also extremely low, with corrupt authorities and police, which makes it easy to avoid local legislation in place. 

From the Swedish side, there is a complete lack of legislation that makes it possible to bring Swedish companies to justice when they violate human rights in third countries. The Swedish attitude is based on a willingness to work with human rights on the part of companies. The government has for many years said that Swedish companies volunteers efforts are enough as they are. Parul Sharma is of a different opinion. She believes that human rights are strongly under-prioritized in Swedish companies, especially in the production chain. 

A survey from the organization FairAction showed recently that almost half of the Swedish companies audited do not carry out any follow-up of whether their human rights policy is complied with - either in their own operations or at the supplier level. 

- There is great impunity for Swedish companies and it is Sweden's biggest tragedy right now in human rights, says Parul Sharma.

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