Freedom House—an independent watchdog organization dedicated to expanding freedom around the world—recently held its annual awards event in Washington, D.C. to honor exceptional individuals and organizations that are supporting and accelerating the cause of freedom and democracy.
The group presented its annual Freedom Award to Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and his daughters, Maryam and Zainab, for their role in advancing democracy in their homeland Bahrain. Only daughter Maryam was present to accept the award since her father and sister are now imprisoned for their pro-democracy efforts by the Bahrain government.
Listening to the words of Maryam, who shared a poem and letter from her father and sister, and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, who was honored for his leadership in U.S. foreign policy, was a moving reminder of the courage and continued dedication needed to protect the human rights so many of us take for granted.
I had the privilege of presenting Freedom House’s Corporate Freedom Award to Levi Strauss & Co., a Ceres member company striving to exemplify business leadership in both environmental and social sustainability. For decades the company has demonstrated its commitment to responsible global sourcing, protection of human rights, and the wellbeing of workers in its supply chain.
In 1991, Levi Strauss & Co. was the first major company to implement a supplier code of conduct – its Terms of Engagement – with the vendors who make its clothes. The code requires company suppliers to abide by ethical standards with regard to worker rights, discrimination, and freedom of association.
Now, 20 years later, Levi Strauss & Co. is developing a new expanded approach, focusing on programs to improve workers’ lives both within and beyond factory walls. The company is redefining its engagement with suppliers by focusing not just on factory compliance, but also on broader community-based issues such as health care, child and maternal health, and gender equality. This framework is now being piloted at five locations globally. I’m proud that we at Ceres are partnering with the company to advance these efforts, as they reflect a keen understanding that strong, sustainable economies rest in the hands of millions of workers across the globe whose wellbeing is essential to our own.
Levi Strauss & Co.’s leadership serves as an inspiration and a call to action. Recognizing they cannot act alone, the company is working hard to inspire others – including companies, investors, and governments – to join them in their commitment.
Freedom, when you have it, is easy to take for granted. I am inspired both by the honorees and by Freedom House for shining a light on such work, as this can only help advance all of our efforts.