Modern Slavery during a pandemic: exploitation in a crisis
Modern slavery takes many forms, from human trafficking to forced
An important first step.
What makes modern slavery in the UK and abroad so difficult eliminate from supply chains is the fact that it hides in plain sight. Victims can appear to be living normal lives, while in reality they are exploited for the gain of others. Recent issues over labour practices at clothing manufacturers in Leicester, demonstrate that this is a problem that lies just below the surface. The Covid crisis has shone a light on this particular issue, described as an ‘open secret’, but probably by no means unique to the fashion industry. More in-depth information about Modern Slavery can be found in our Whitepaper.
There is also a widely held misconception that UK modern slavery only affects a relatively small set of businesses and industries. While the problem is perhaps more evident in prostitution and small enterprises such as nail bars and small shops, it can also be found on construction sites, factories, recycling centres, farms, cleaning services and fishing.
The problem is a bigger one than many realise. Statistics on Modern Slavery from UK charity Unseen suggest that 25 million people around the world are currently in some form of forced labour. In 2018, 6,993 potential cases of forced labour were submitted to UK authorities.
Eliminating this kind of forced labour from the UK needs to start with companies acknowledging the scale of the problem, and also understanding where their responsibility lies.
The responsibility for working to eliminate modern slavery in the UK rests on the buyers and suppliers that make up supply chains. While the government, police and legal industry are responsible for bringing criminals to justice, they cannot work effectively without the help of businesses.
In short, it is not a viable strategy to hope that you are operating a legal and ethical supply chain, you have to actually prove it.
Buyers who decide to examine the labour practices of their supply chains may sometimes find unexpected issues. Badger Sportswear were forced to drop a key supplier after it came to light that the company was using forced labour in Chinese detention facilities. This originated from the supplier having provided false documentation to Badger’s third party accreditation partner. In 2019, a media investigation found that many UK supermarket brands were unknowingly selling produce from suppliers using forced labour. The use of conflict minerals in the electronics industry, such as the tungsten, tantalum and tin mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo that have frequently made their way into smartphones, is also an area that needs constant monitoring and vigilance.
This burden of proof for buyers and suppliers means that getting accurate, reliable supply chain data is an important first step. This can be more difficult than it appears, but is exactly what our Labour Practice Audit (LPA) is designed to do.
Labour Practice Audits (LPAs) are an essential tool that allow companies to make sense of their data and find instances of mistreatment that could otherwise seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. Buyers can assign a Labour Practice Audit (LPA) to any suppliers they want to examine more closely. These audits can be an eye-opening activity for buyers, as knowing exactly who is working across sites and supply chains can be a complex, logistical task.
Our LPAs help buyers make sure they are operating legal and ethical supply chains, by giving them oversight into what their suppliers are actually doing on a day to day basis. This helps buyers make sure that the companies they choose to work with are reflecting their values when it comes to trying to eliminate modern slavery in the UK.
Our auditors go onsite and anonymously interview workers employed by suppliers in order to identify any risks of forced labour. Following this, a report is produced detailing any findings of concern for buyers. If needed, we can return to the supplier and conduct a full management and employment process review to find the root of the problem. Customers who have undertaken an LPA on construction sites comment that the value of the LPA is not just that it goes well beyond a ‘box ticking’ exercise but that the findings enable them to gain an understanding of where the weaknesses lie, and how best to work with contractors to solve these issues.
The fight against UK modern slavery has to start with an honest assessment of the problem, and companies can only do this if they have accurate and reliable labour data. With our expertise and experience, we can help give you the certainty you need to proceed.