Bosses at G4S and Interserve have said they have found no cases of slavery in their supply chains.
The declarations were made during a hearing of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into Whitehall’s strategic suppliers.
MP Anne Marie Morris expressed surprise when both G4S CEO Peter Neden and Debbie White, CEO at Interserve, said there was no slavery in their supply chains.
“How much slavery have you found? I can’t believe that the answer is zero,” she said.
“I have done quite a lot of research into this, and it is unusual for a company to have none.”
The CEOs were being questioned as part of the committee’s examination of the government’s relationship with major strategic suppliers in the light of the collapse of Carillion.
When Morris asked whether the companies were obliged to look at their supply chain for any evidence of slavery, both replied that they took extensive steps to do so.
“We are very clear, through our screening and vetting process, that all the employees that we work with have the proper length of history and that we know where they are from,” said Neden.
He said subcontractors were obliged to do the same and that the company had a rigorous process to carry out auditing and vetting through an in-house team that also checked suppliers.
White said: “I would say very similar things to Mr Neden. We do our proper vetting and evaluation. That is done by internal HR teams. We have not found any instances of modern slavery anywhere in our business.”
She added that all subcontractors were rigorously vetted by the procurement team but added that as she had not been in her role for long she would have to send additional information to the committee on how exactly that vetting was carried out.
G4S has around 70 contracts with UK government worth a total of £660m. Around 20 are with central government, said Neden.
White was not asked to provide comparable figures for Interserve.
She was asked the average length of time it took to pay suppliers and said in October the company decided to pay all suppliers on 30-day terms.
“That has stood us in very good stead as we have gone through our financial restructuring, as our suppliers have stood by us,” she said.
“Our goal is 30-day terms, unless there are disputes or explicit differences to that, for example in the Middle East, where the terms are slightly different.”
She believed only a “very small” number of suppliers were not being paid within 60 days.
Neden said G4S paid 80% of suppliers within 60 days and the company was working towards payment in 30 days.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.