Blog • 14.04.23

Modern Slavery is a Real Risk for Businesses Across Global Supply Chains

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With supply chains now able to span an increasingly inter-connected globe, modern slavery is a real and growing risk for businesses in a globalised environment. And it’s a serious one that needs attention and action if they are not to be complicit in allowing it to prosper.

Despite the UK abolishing slavery in 1833, the stark reality is that slavery has not gone away, and the situation is not improving – more than 130,000 people in the UK alone are estimated to be in modern slavery.

With 50 million people worldwide in modern slavery, 28 million of which were in forced labour and 3.3 million of those children (ILO), there has arguably never been a better time for businesses to ensure that they are operating responsibly to protect the people in their organisation and supply chain.

Which is why 2023 is set for stricter regulations for organisations to prevent human rights abuses and address governance and transparency obligations in supply chains that includes:

  • German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act – Effective from January 2023
  • The European Commission (EC) For A Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive – passed by the European Parliament in March 2021
  • EU Supply Chain Law

Expectations and pressures on companies to tackle modern slavery are increasing. However, despite a heightened focus, because of its complex and hidden nature the signs are not always obvious or the remedial steps that should be taken once it has been identified.

A lack of understanding just because it is a complex challenge is no defence of course, and there are compelling moral, legal and commercial reasons for businesses to address modern slavery. It should not be about consequence management, but about doing the right, creating change for the better

As Anthony Hanley, SVP of Supply Chain Compliance at Alcumus says: “All businesses – whether large enterprises or SMEs – need to work together to eradicate any cases of forced labour, unsafe or abusive working practices and modern slavery. This is a complex issue, which no business can solve on its own. Indeed, it’s only by working together in mutual partnerships, supported by technology, that organisations can tackle this problem.”

Leading organisations are embracing their obligations under the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, and are taking deliberate steps to help prevent abuses by:

  • Gaining greater visibility of modern slavery compliance in the supply chain by having a robust vetting process in place that captures modern slavery policies, reviewing and monitoring them on a regular basis.
  • Promoting greater awareness among their supply chain.
  • Implementing effective standards, codes of conduct and action plans which support the elimination of forced labour in their supply chains.
  • Requiring contractual commitments and other measures from their suppliers that support regular monitoring, auditing and reporting of their labour conditions, with a specific focus on eliminating the potential for trafficking and forced labour within their supply chain.

To achieve this, organisations must start by asking the right questions around human rights and working conditions and review which parts of their supply chain are most at risk and put appropriate protective measures in place, which should include:

  • Developing policies, procedures and communication channels
  • Producing a modern slavery statement
  • Closely managing high-risk suppliers
  • Training employees
  • Checking all tier contractors, suppliers and third party recruitment agencies
  • Accreditation

Even if your organisation or business is not legally obliged to comply with the Modern Slavery Act, responsible practices will significantly contribute to preventing modern slavery within businesses and supply chains.

A zero-tolerance approach against modern slavery is vital to ensure that exploitation risks don’t go undetected and to prevent slavery happening in the first place.

These alarming practices have no place in the 21st century and where businesses fall short on modern slavery, then the risks they face of non-compliance as well as reputational and financial damage is not something to be complacent about.

Our ‘Preventing Modern Slavery In The Supply Chain’ whitepaper explores how to avoid being complicit and provides steps to tackle modern slavery and compliance checklist.

Download our whitepaper