By definition, slavery is usually invisible. But in 2014, its cruel and ruthless identity was exposed for all to see.
In one of the most emotive examples, more supermarkets from across Europe were found to be using Asian prawn suppliers which showed a total contempt for their workers – with 20-hour shifts, torture and even executions relatively commonplace.
Now, in a landmark move the UK Government has announced that large businesses will have to include in their annual reports details of how they are tackling slavery within their supply chains. And rightly so.
At the start of 2014, independent research* showed that less than 50 per cent of large UK businesses were regularly auditing their Tier 1 suppliers on whether they used slave labourers. That figure fell to 36 per cent at Tier 2.
Since then, we have seen multi-national buyers advance significantly their efforts to address slavery within their supply chains.
In our experience, multi-national companies used to rely on a relatively short, ‘high-level’ pre-qualification questionnaire for CSR issues. Suppliers were only asked strategic questions – such as whether they had a policy and whether they had had a conviction for any sort of ethics issues.
With growing pressure from Governments and consumers, that is no longer seen as good enough.
At the request of multi-national buyers, we are implementing on their behalf a much more detailed CSR questionnaires across several of our communities – where multiple buying organisations mandate the same standards in terms of CSR in their pre-qualification questionnaire. Whole networks of buyers are now asking suppliers for much more detail on the prevention of forced labour, bonded labour or involuntary prison labour, as well as the full spectrum of CSR issues – such as human rights, fair labour standards, prevention of discrimination and harassment and ensuring freedom of association and collective bargaining.
We have now seen various Governments, in the USA and now the UK, take the lead on slavery in supply chains and we are sure others will follow. Wherever in the world they are based, global firms should take five steps now to get ahead:
1) Implement a comprehensive pre-qualification questionnaire including all CSR issues.
Slavery is topical, but it is no more or less important than other human rights issues, such as the use of conflict minerals. This is a real opportunity to address all CSR risks simultaneously via a single questionnaire, to protect everyone in the supply chain.
2) Get a proper system for managing information about their suppliers.
Businesses should implement a single database as a ‘source of the truth’ to proactively identify and mitigate potential issues.
3) Adopt a collaborative approach to gathering information.
There is strength in numbers. With companies sharing suppliers, it makes sense for whole industries to work collaboratively on sourcing supplier information to reduce the administrative burden. One of the biggest changes requested by our buyers is that suppliers also have a role to play in terms of gathering information. In the new questionnaire, suppliers are also asked whether they check their sub-suppliers’ CSR policies, either through assessment or audits. By collaborating with other companies in
4) Map supply chains to find out the identity of all their suppliers.
With a complete picture of who is in the supply chain businesses can audit everyone’s claims that they are not using slave labourers – or any other unethical CSR practice.