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22 October 2015

One step closer to slavery free supply chains

One step closer to slavery free supply chains

When the Modern Slavery Act was being debated in parliament the Alliance joined a coalition of organisations to encourage the government to include an amendment requiring businesses to show their supply chains are slavery free. Therefore it was hugely encouraging to see the draft Transparency Supply Chains Regulations approved by parliament this week.

Debate in the commons was minimal however peers subjected the minister to more thorough scrutiny including a number of points that were raised in the briefing put forward by the coalition the Alliance is part of. During the debate Lord Alton recognised those organisations which were involved in the supply chains amendment including the Evangelical Alliance, Unseen, War on Want and the CORE coalition.

From October 2015 all large companies that do business in the UK will be legally required to publish an annual statement which describes the steps they have taken to ensure that modern slavery does not take place in their own business and their supply chains anywhere in the world (including in the UK itself).

This will apply to companies with a turnover of £36 million or more (£36 million is the threshold set in the Companies Act as the definition of a large company). It will mean that the UK becomes the first country in the world to introduce such a legal duty on large companies.

This follows well from last week when the new independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland set out his first strategic plan. It was encouraging to see that slavery free supply chains and better support for victims are among his top priorities.

The United Nations estimates that globally there are between 27 and 30 million currently caught in the slave industry.  The majority of these victims are exploited in private sector activities, such as manufacturing, construction and agriculture.

Mr Hyland, a former senior police officer, acknowledged the crucial role of the private sector in tackling slavery and said he is committed to working with businesses to combat labour exploitation and ensure their supply chains don’t involve slavery. Mr Hyland is working with KPMG and a number of prominent businesses on the development of models of best practice to increase transparency and ensure supply chains are ‘slavery proof’.

In his strategic plan Mr Hyland said that: “supply chains have globalised and demand for cheap products and ever cheaper labour has continued to increase, the risks of slavery in supply chains, in the UK and internationally, have become much greater. Slavery in the supply chain is an abuse of human rights in the pursuit of profits and businesses have a duty to ensure it is not tolerated.”

He went on to say: “the UK Government has demonstrated international leadership on this issue through the introduction of the landmark Transparency in Supply Chains section of the Modern Slavery Act.”

He said that slavery free supply chains will be achieved through methods including:

working with trade bodies and businesses to identify, promote and encourage best practice in ethical labour practices and supply chain transparency;

- promoting understanding of the Transparency in Supply Chains section of the Modern Slavery Act and encouraging best practice in policy responses and reporting;

- developing targeted initiatives with particular sectors where slavery is likely to be prevalent;

- working with Police Chief Constables to encourage engagement with Chief Executive Officers of companies in at-risk industries in their areas.

In an age that celebrates freedom, equality and opportunity, it’s unbelievable that slavery and trafficking still exists. Slavery is big business. Profits made off the back of these victims are estimated at US $150 billion a year. Tragically, it’s the fastest growing international crime and one of the largest income sources for organised crime. The Alliance is pleased to see the UK stepping up and bringing in laws to tackle this abhorrent crime and provide the support desperately needed by victims.

We see a requirement for transparent supply chains as a vital method to effectively tackle slavery. We will continue to work within coalition to see that businesses are meeting the requirements laid out in law.



     Photo credit: UbeIT (used under CC licence)