1st November was the day the UK Modern Slavery Act came into action. Part 6 of the Act, ‘Transparency in Supply Chains’, requires all companies with a turnover of £36 million or over that have some commercial activity in the UK to issue a yearly statement mentioning what they are currently doing and the steps they are planning to take to tackle slavery, within their business and through their supply chain.
The UK is the first country to adopt this new legislation. Inspired partly by the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2012, this act follows a series of now sadly familiar scandals of workers working in appalling conditions at various points in the supply chain. From Thai prawns being fished by trafficked slaves and ending up in the shelves of supermarkets like Tesco, Morrisons or Carrefour, to the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, which manufactured products for retailers here such as H&M, Primark or Matalan to name a few, these storiesshow the lack of transparency that exists in the whole production process, and from the businesses’ perspective, they have a deep impact on reputation.
An interesting report released by ETI and the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability revealed that 71% of the companies interviewed think they are likely to have slavery in the supply chain. This not only highlights the extent of the opacity in the supply chain, but also the lack of confidence in suppliers or in the suppliers’ suppliers, at tier levels that are further down and thus in most cases unknown.
This is an astonishing figure. Coupled with the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act, it shows that information and trust need to be built urgently. The Modern Slavery Act encourages businesses to take steps towards a stronger and more transparent network of buyers and suppliers. The initiative may come from the buyers, but suppliers also have a key role to play in demonstrating transparency and reassurance.
Of course, governments and public institutions need to also take the issue seriously. The traffickers of the prawn fishing slaves in Thailand couldn’t continue their activity without the complacency, corruption or lack of reaction of national and local authorities.
The Modern Slavery Act is the opportunity for everyone to take urgent and much needed steps to eradicate slavery. For businesses this means understanding better production and distribution processes internally and externally, embracing the fight against slavery at all levels of the company and making sure information and training are available and implemented to identify risks or occurrences and act accordingly. A little can go a long way, and it is time to promote positive change in a positive way.