Published 24 January 2017
Stora Enso's units have all been actively implementing human rights actions to further improve working conditions, on the basis of a company-wide Human Rights Assessment carried out in 2014. For Ewa Bedzkowska and Beata Krajewska at Ostroleka Mill in Poland, this process has meant seeing their everyday surroundings in a completely new way.
"But we don't have any human rights issues in Poland! This was our first thought when conducting the human rights self-assessment for our unit," says Ewa Bedzkowska, Sustainability Manager at Ostroleka, who ran the assessment at Ostroleka together with Human Resource Director Beata Krajewska in 2014.
Human rights issues in a corporate context are often only associated with severe human rights violations. However, most of the findings of Stora Enso's global human rights assessment were related to general management issues, involving day-to-day occupational health and safety topics, human resources, and supply chain management. The fact that these everyday operational issues are related to human rights may come as a surprise.
At the same time as the human rights assessment was realised at Ostroleka the unit reviewed its compliance with the group-wide minimum Human Resource requirements. Ostroleka was also among 13 Stora Enso units chosen to be reviewed by external auditors as part of the Human Rights Assessment. A total of eleven unit-specific actions were identified requiring Ostroleka Mill and Corrugated Packaging Poland to take actions under the group-wide Human Rights Action Plan.
Some of the most significant findings at Ostroleka related to unequal salaries, the availability of pay slips and additional working clothes. Bedzkowska and Krajewska have subsequently been busy coordinating the necessary improvements together with the mill's management, production managers, and human resources, OHS, and communication teams. Many of the minor non-compliances were quick and easy to resolve – such as the need for additional safety markings. But some practices are harder to change overnight, so a step-by-step approach was needed.
Ostroleka Mill, some 120 kilometres north-east of Warsaw, is one of Stora Enso's largest units, producing container board, sack paper, wrapping paper, and corrugated packaging for global markets. A large share of the mill's workforce consists of agency workers, i.e. contractors working on demand. Several of the human rights assessment findings at Ostroleka concerned these workers.
"Some of the inequalities between our own employees and agency workers existed simply due to poor communications, while others were due to differences between Polish legislation and Stora Enso's requirements," Krajewska says.
The findings required Ostroleka Mill to intensify dialogues with the four agencies that provide workers for the mill.
"We have always followed legislation and applied good standards relating to working conditions. But we now apply a more systematic approach with the four agencies, with aligned documentation and equal requirements," Bedzkowska explains. "The resulting dialogues and actions have also more widely improved our cooperation with employee representatives, trade unions, and the local community."
Taking the final steps
Stora Enso's group-wide human rights assessment identified a total of approximately 300 actions needed at various units. All the unit-specific actions needed at Ostroleka were resolved by the end of 2015. Group-wide, 87% of all the human rights actions were completed by the end of Q2 2017.
To follow-up on these improvements in working conditions, Ostroleka is planning to repeat an employee survey that had been conducted before the changes.
"Having taken a deep dive into human rights themes, we now feel that we know both our workforce better, and have a more open dialogue with them. We acknowledge that human rights are linked to everything we do – and that we need to continue addressing them every day," says Bedzkowska.