BRE working on ethical labour supply chain standard

31 March 2016

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) is to launch a standard to help businesses tackle risks around modern slavery and other ethical labour issues in their supply chains.

The standard, being put together by the BRE with Nigel McKay, a former procurement head at HS2 and Lendlease, is aimed at companies of all sizes and would be able to be used different industry sectors. BRE said that it would create a benchmark for ethical labour in the supply chain and help organisations re-engineer their supply chains and procurement processes to take account of social and ethical labour issues.

Shamir Ghumra, associate director, head of responsible sourcing in the Centre for Sustainable Products at BRE, said it was developing the standard by engaging with a stakeholder group that so far numbered around 50 organisations. They include organisations such as the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Marks & Spencer, HS2, Lendlease and Kier, as well as non-governmental organistions and academics, but BRE said it was looking for more organisations to get involved.

Ghumra said the BRE had already done work surrounding social and ethical challenges for its standard on responsible sourcing of construction products, BES 6001, which was launched in 2009.

He added: “We recognised that there is a need to strengthen some of that work and since then the Modern Slavery Act has come out. It’s not just about how to comply with the act but looking at ethical labour issues as a whole.”

The standard will be a rating-based scheme with certification and provide a consistent platform and benchmarking based around three tiers of companies – those with a turnover under £36m, between £36 and £500m, and those with turnovers of more than £500m. It will also contain a Maturity Matrix to give organisations a continuous action plan and help them meet their aspirations over the longer term

“We have to give them a road map and time to invest and adjust,” said McKay. “Not every company will be able to do everything in the first year. It takes three, four or five years, to re-engineer a supply chain.”

Criteria that the standard will cover include looking at management systems: how and whether or not companies record and report on procurement and HR; whether this complies with the Modern Slavery Act; or whether reporting has been certified to comply with legislation or checked by third-party audits.

Another criteria is ‘committees and forums’. “Do you determine your own future or are their worker forums to contribute to this giving shop-floor feedback?” said McKay. “Has this been supplemented by outside industry experts?”

The standard will also look at whether supply chain mapping has been done, and if there is a risk-analysis of different companies, and awareness of the risk of contravention of various legislation.

An outline document has been drafted with the standard scheduled to be in place this summer.

“We need a benchmark that sets the profile of ethical labour in the supply chain, so companies can giver their attention to the biggest risks,” said McKay.

“People are more socially aware with regards to procurement and the impact it has. A lot of conversations are now around the social and ethical issues of procurement and how much good your pound does, not just how cheap something is.

“There is also more migration to Europe and many of those people will move into employment in the supply chain. It is incumbent on us to make sure those people are not exploited as a part of that process.”

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