Modern Slavery during a pandemic: exploitation in a crisis
Modern slavery takes many forms, from human trafficking to forced or bonded labour. It could be a construction worker receiving less than minimum wage, or a ship crew being forced to stay onboard without pay. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted working patterns, and as the current crisis in the meat industry in Germany demonstrates, perhaps the response to the pandemic highlights poor working conditions and the vulnerability of migrant workers.
The number of potential modern slavery victims in UK has increased by 52% since 2019 and the COVID-19 crisis is reducing access to safe and reliable employment due to border closures and travel restrictions. With education systems around the world suspended this heightens the threat of increased child exploitation.
In 2019, the most common type of exploitation was labour exploitation and there are currently 40.3 million people estimated to be in modern slavery globally. But how can organisations tackle modern slavery during a pandemic and maintain a high level of business ethics?
Modern slavery in the supply chain
The UK Home Office issued a statement advising, “During the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential that businesses continue their activity to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. As well as focusing on the health and safety of their workers, businesses will need to consider how fluctuations in demand and changes in their operating model may lead to new or increased risks of labour exploitation.”
Is your labour outsourced?
Ensure contractors and lower tiered suppliers adhere to the rigorous background checks you provide on your own employees and make sure there is adequate training for all staff to spot the signs of modern slavery. In the long term this can be done through our Ethical Business Programme (formally Labour Practice Audits) and onsite assurance programmes. During a pandemic you can run additional checks by asking your suppliers the tough questions on their ethical business practices.
Are your suppliers increasing production of business-critical products?
If your suppliers are hiring temporary staff to keep up with the workload, they could be at risk of exploitation. Businesses should be conducting due diligence on their tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers, not only on staff, but the sourcing of raw materials to help to maintain high ethical standards and reduce the risk of modern slavery during a pandemic. Buyers should also avoid late cancellations of orders as cash flow disruptions may result in workers not being paid.
Create a dialogue
Engaging in active monitoring of your supply chain and keeping communication lines open with suppliers is key to tackling this ethical procurement issue head on.
Drive transparency by having an open dialogue with both employees and top tier suppliers about tackling modern slavery during a pandemic. This will help your organisation to continue operating with integrity and maintain ethical standards during the toughest of times.
Download our Whitepaper to learn more about Modern Slavery risks in the supply chain.