The UK government announced this week that large businesses will have to include in their annual reports details of how they are tackling slavery in their supply chains.
It’s a poignant time to take action – 10 years on from the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, which saw 23 people drown while picking cockles for just 9p per pound.
So it is more than disappointing to see new figures from the Salvation Army, which show a 62 per cent increase in the number of victims of slavery they had been called on to support this year.
It is quite right that businesses should report on efforts to tackle slavery. But by its nature, slavery is hidden in the supply chain and businesses could be hampered by a lack of visibility of suppliers, inadequate data and irregular auditing.
Independent research for Achilles found that only 51 per cent of large UK manufacturers are regularly auditing their Tier 1 suppliers on whether they used slave labourers. Only 38 per cent of manufacturers audited suppliers at Tier 2.
But, since the survey was carried out in early 2014, we have seen a number of multinational manufacturers take huge leaps to ensure slave labour is not a part of their supply chain.
In the past, multinational businesses asked suppliers about high-level policies. But now we are seeing multinationals demand far more comprehensive information about how suppliers are tackling slavery and other CSR issues. They also require suppliers to report back on their sub-supply chains.
It’s a great start, but we recommend businesses take five steps to ensure that never again do we see a repeat of the Morecambe Bay tragedy:
1) Implement a comprehensive pre-qualification system including all social responsibility and sustainability issues. This provides an opportunity, in a single questionnaire, to protect everyone in the supply chain by consistently asking CSR questions throughout the supply chain.
2) Implement a system for managing information about their suppliers. Having an easy to use database of maintained and up-to-date information on suppliers allows buyers to proactively identify and mitigate potential risks.
3) Adopt a collaborative approach to gathering information. There is strength in numbers. With many companies sharing suppliers, it makes sense for whole industries to work collaboratively on sourcing supplier information to reduce the administrative burden.
4) Map supply chains to find out the identity of all suppliers. By mapping suppliers across multiple tiers risks can be highlighted. Without doing so the buyer has no understanding of the risks to their reputation or whether suppliers are being responsible in their activities.
5) Audit. The reality of what is happening at a factory or worksite and what a company advertises on paper can be poles apart. Independent audits pull back the curtain and allow a buyer to spot any potential risks.
☛ Jon Williams is CSR manager at Achilles.