Modern slavery: more than a statistic

The International Labour Organization estimates there are more than 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide, one in four of them children, and nearly 25 million in forced labour, suggesting the sheer scale of the problem. The issue does not discriminate gender, race or age. It can affect anyone. The immediacy of the challenge has been brought home to UK businesses by the pioneering law-making of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Legislation requires UK businesses with a turnover of £36 million-plus to publish an annual statement on how they are combating modern-day slavery

No supply chain is immune, says chief executive of Sedex, Jonathan Ivelaw-Chapman. “It is a global problem, which touches every country, developed and developing,” he says. “We can all point to the usual suspects, such as Myanmar, but we have modern slavery here in the UK, hence the legislation – it’s in our own backyard.”

Home Office figures from 2013 estimated there were between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery and trafficking in the UK. By 2016, National Crime Agency data found the number of people referred for help had doubled in just three years.

Headline statistics alone, though, cannot convey the human story or fully explain changes over time and boundaries. The effects of distressed migration on labour patterns in Europe, as a result of conflict in the Levant, are an example of an evolving regional situation, with cross-border implications. Business needs actionable intelligence.

Sedex – Supplier Ethical Data Exchange – operates one of the world’s largest data-exchange platforms. From inception 14 years ago, Sedex has grown to include over 48,000 supplier members and more than 800 customer members. Covering 150 countries, members share supply chain data on activity across the board, good to bad. This enables all involved to make better-informed business decisions, driving continuous improvement in ethical, sustainable and social impacts.

Supply chain visibility is no simple matter. The multi-tiered complexity of modern business makes it difficult for organisations even to be aware of risks they may be facing, never mind map and manage them. It gets harder and harder to see through layer upon layer of the supply chain, all the way to the people that matter, maybe working hunched over crops, thousands of feet up in remote rural areas, miles from any high street client.

In response, Sedex tracks activity from tier zero, the customer end, right through to tier nine, the beginning of the supply chain. The platform uses geolocation to help flag political indicators and environmental issues, as well as aggregated data to give sector-specific intelligence for enterprises such as the garment or electronics industries. This facilitates real transparency and traceability.

Combining both historical perspectives and up-to-the-minute particulars, Sedex offers a range of tools to assist in raising awareness and targeting solutions around modern slavery. SMETA – Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit – is one of the most widely used ethical auditing tools in the world. It adopts a four-pillar approach to labour standards, health and safety, the environment and business ethics, to drill down into the detail.

In alignment with the Modern Slavery Act, Sedex Forced Labour Indicator Reports are also designed to target supply chain issues. Key for businesses presenting statements on slavery and human trafficking, they help enhance ethical standing as well as ensure regulatory compliance.

Sedex member Lidl has been using the Sedex platform since 2016. A Lidl spokesperson says: “The platform provides indicators of human rights risks to workers across our supply chain and has shown us, for example, that 80 per cent of our UK supply base use a degree of agency labour and 27 per cent rely on temporary labour. This type of information helps us to prioritise areas of modern-slavery risk and enables us to develop targeted actions.”

Sedex can help you identify where there might be risks in your supply chain

Given the urgency of the problem and availability of the resource, there is no excuse for complacency, concludes Mr Ivelaw-Chapman. “Bombarded by issues and pressured for time, it can be easy to lose sight of what matters in business. In the case of modern slavery, it is the people that matter,” he says.

“You need a clear supply chain strategy, a response. Modern slavery is not going away. Don’t get distracted.”

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