Businesses need to “mobilise their spending power” to tackle the plight of the 36 million people in slavery, a conference was told.
Jean Baderschneider, former vice president of global procurement at ExxonMobil, said firms had spending power of $80 trillion (£51 trillion) and they needed to use this to tackle the issue. She said there were 36 million people in slavery who generated $150 billion (£96 billion) in profits.
Speaking during a discussion on modern slavery at the Trust Women Conference, she said: “It’s that purchasing power that has to be mobilised to get a step-change in the fight.”
Baderschneider said RFQs and other documents should include clauses stipulating no forced labour in the supply chain. “Every single company should have a robust supplier qualification process, including site visits, so they know what’s going on,” she said.
“Track your spend by product location, map it against data to see where there’s a high probability of slavery in the supply chain.”
Baderschneider said it was necessary for alternative work to be found for people coming out of slavery. “We can end slavery but what happens then?” she said. “We have to effectively build a conjunction between business and government [to create] replacement economies so workers who come out of slavery have fair working conditions and wages. We need global standards on that.”
Livia Firth, creative director of Eco-Age, said consumers’ desire for fast fashion had to be addressed.
“We can’t change anything until we address fast fashion and fast food,” she said. “We are all enslaved. They have enslaved us as consumers to the idea of faster and cheaper fashion.
“Commit to wear something a minimum of 30 times. Most women don’t wear something twice or three times. The average garment stays in a woman’s wardrobe for five weeks.”
Louise Nicholls, head of responsible sourcing at Marks and Spencer, said the company had 600 first tier suppliers and it used 3,000 raw materials from 10,000 producers in 50 countries.
Concerning the food supply chain she said: “We’re seeing an increasing reliance on temporary labour. We’re seeing an increasing number of unscrupulous middle men.”
She recommended firms map their supply chain, conduct audits, develop a clear code of conduct and work with other stakeholders. “You can’t do this alone,” she said.
The government has appointed Kevin Hyland, former head of the Metropolitan Police's Human Trafficking Unit, to be the UK's first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.