Corporate Responses to Modern Slavery
Today saw the publication of a report which seeks to give a snapshot of company perceptions and current responses to modern slavery. This report is the product of collaborative work between the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Hult International Business School. Given the new Modern Slavery Act and the fact that its transparency in supply chains clause is being phased in from this month, the report is timely.
It is undoubtedly a must read for all who want an insight into the role of companies in combating modern slavery. For me, its standout statistic is that 71% of companies believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some point within their supply chain. A figure which belies the belief that modern slavery is restricted to small pockets in the global economy and certainly not in any way associated with our high street brands. When you however talk to the corporate sector and you realise that a company can have tens of thousands of links in their supply chain spread, over several continents, the size and complexity of the problem is less surprising.
The report identifies a number of factors which can influence the effectiveness of a company’s efforts to combat modern slavery as well as impeding factors. One key factor is buy-in right at the top of the company.
“Companies that have leaders who provide a clear vision and drive for addressing ethical trade and modern slavery issues – as well as a pathway of accountability and support from the board, chief executive officer (CEO) and senior team – are able to make more progress than those that do not”.
It is a point that others concerned with bringing about any change within an organisation would identify with. The same passage from the report goes on to say.
“ The attitude and support of individual line managers also makes a difference”.
These points are of course related as middle management will takes what is considered important from what senior management says what is important.
From this writers experience it is an approach to the issue which is far from universal. Unfortunately, in many instances, corporate social responsibility is dealt with by one or a few people in a company whose activities are not seen to be as part of the core of the business and act largely in isolation.
To highlight just one other key message from the report, it emphasises the need for cooperation.
“Collaboration with peers, non-governmental organisation (NGOs), governments, trade unions and others seen as important in effectively addressing modern slavery.”
The report acknowledges that there are barriers to be overcome in establishing such cooperation. One of the largest if not the largest is how do you collaborate with your competitors? Often this can only be achieved over time with the gradual build-up of trust.
I have only tried to give a flavour of the report here. If this is a subject that you are interested in I would urge you to read the full report.
Finally, on a different but closely related issue the Government can do more to fight modern slavery by ratifying the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour without further delays. The Coalition Government was committed to do this but we were told they ran out of Parliamentary time before Parliament was dissolved prior to the General Election. The present Government have indicated they will honour this commitment but they need to get on and do it!