High street fashion retailers including John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have agreed to work together with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) to fight supply chain slavery.
In a meeting of the Modern Slavery Taskforce, a government and industry group examining labour issues, the retailers signed a joint agreement to share intelligence with anti-slavery authorities in a bid to crack down on forced labour.
New Look, Next, River Island and Shop Direct – which owns Littlewoods – also committed to the information-sharing scheme, called the Apparel and General Merchandise Public and Private Protocol (AGMPP), which will see the retailers and authorities “exchange information and intelligence” about labour abuse, according to GLAA director of operations Ian Waterfield.
PM Theresa May gave her backing to the move. “I welcome the action being taken by businesses which are leading the way in being open and transparent about the modern slavery risks they face, and have pledged to raise awareness to prevent slavery, protect vulnerable workers and help bring more criminals to justice,” she said.
Enforcement bodies including Department for Work and Pensions, Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, Health and Safety Executive, HMRC, Immigration Enforcement and the Insolvency Service have also signed the document, which is supported by industry bodies the British Retail Consortium, UK Fashion and Textile Association, and auditing system Fast Forward.
The news follows criticism of businesses by GLAA deputy director of business change Mark Heath for keeping information to themselves.
Speaking at September’s Modern Slavery and Ethical Labour in Construction Leadership Symposium, he said: “People get really scared about intelligence, but it’s the lifeblood of what you do. With intelligence you’re creating a picture of what’s happening in your supply chain.
“But the way perpetrators continue to operate is that we keep information to ourselves. We need to share information.”
M&S topped a FTSE 100 ranking for its compliance with the Modern Slavery Act last month.
Meanwhile, a Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB) report has found while some businesses have made steps forward in respecting human rights, most have “barely left the starting line”.
Adidas, BHP Billiton, M&S, Rio Tinto and Unilever were the highest scoring companies for the second year running, but they have left the average performers even further behind, it said.
Firms were assessed on governance and policies, response to allegations, company human rights practices, remedies and grievance mechanisms, embedding respect and human rights due diligence and transparency.
Among the worst companies were Kraft Heinz, Starbucks and Costco Wholesale, all scoring less than 10 out of 100.
“The alignment of purchasing practices with human rights is not easy, but without this, in food and apparel, abuse in their complex global supply chains is inevitable,” said Phil Bloomer, executive director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre.
“The majority of companies appear to be only dimly aware of the potential threats and prizes around them, having made small or no progress in putting human rights at the heart of their business,” he added.
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