Eradicating an evil

David Noble, Group CEO, Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply
19 January 2015

CIPS was invited to Rome for a declaration against modern slavery by faith leaders

“Freedom is indivisible. When one man is enslaved, all are not free,” US president John F Kennedy once said.

The curse of modern slavery is an issue at the forefront of our minds at the Institute, so it was a pleasure and privilege to be invited to witness, first hand, the signing of a joint declaration by faith leaders from around the world to eradicate this evil trade by 2020.

The event was led by the Pope and organised by the Global Freedom Network, an organisation committed to the dignity and freedom of all humankind, regardless of race, creed or religion. Though by Royal Charter, CIPS is an independent organisation, open to all, without religious or political views, I couldn’t help but be affected by what felt like a momentous and historic occasion. Above all, this was a great honour for CIPS and the profession to be the only such professional body invited.

I was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Andrew Forrest from the Walk Free Foundation, one of the founding organisations of the Global Freedom Network. The invitation followed the work CIPS has been conducting with Walk Free through the production of the Modern slavery in supply chains guide ( and appearing at the select committee for the UK Modern Slavery Bill, which should become law in 2015.

Every faith was represented at the event. Senior leaders from the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths were there to sign the Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery. In total, over 90 per cent of the world’s population was represented by the appropriate faith leaders.

This was a meeting of spiritual leaders, but the approach following the declaration is very practical. As spiritual communities can be close-knit and supportive, they have the advantage of having more visibility in the local area. The practical resources on offer following the signing are targeted at the different faiths, keeping in mind cultural values so they make sense to those communities and can bring some visible results.

Going back to the UK Bill, we had a few nervous weeks following the removal of any reference to the accountability of supply chains and human trafficking earlier this year. Everyone in the profession must know by now the role procurement plays in identifying and targeting slavery in supply chains, through understanding and interrogating each tier carefully and being aware of what the trafficking signs are. CIPS’ call for the profession to be licensed has been taken on by Walk Free as a practical way of bringing accountability into these practices. I had the privilege of speaking to a pre-meeting of charitable bodies on the subject, getting significant recognition for what the profession can do.

Calling modern-day slavery a “crime against humanity” these spiritual leaders were robust in their approach and desire to eradicate this within a few years. That’s quite a promise to destroy a trade that has been going on for thousands of years. We can no longer ignore it, whether taking the spiritual approach or using the practical application of good procurement to make a stand.

What exactly is modern slavery?

According to Walk Free and its Global Slavery Index released this year, the number of modern slaves around the world is now almost 36 million, up from 28 million last year. This is men, women and children.

This unbelievably large number of people are owned like cattle, bought, sold, traded and even killed at whim. They can be controlled through emotional and physical abuse, or huge debts they’ll never be able to repay, so that they’re unable to leave.

The west African nation of Mauritania has the highest proportion of people in modern slavery (4 per cent of the population), with Uzbekistan at 3.9 per cent, Haiti at 2.3 per cent, Qatar at 1.3 per cent and India 1.1 per cent.

But this happens everywhere – in every country in the world, emerging or developed. The Walk Free Global Slavery Index 2014 also highlights the action governments are taking, so progress is measurable and visible.

☛ David Noble, group CEO, CIPS

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