Achilles unites with Unseen UK to help detect modern slavery: partner content

8 July 2021

This content piece is in partnership with Achilles

Pressure is building on companies to raise their game on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

The UK government is in the process of tightening up the Modern Slavery Act, Germany has just passed a supply chain law to enforce ESG responsibilities, while similar legislation is in the pipeline from the EU. And in a pincer movement, consumers are becoming more curious of the provenance of what they’re buying and more demanding about ethical responsibilities. Meanwhile, activist shareholders are making their presence felt in boardrooms.

Collecting reliable data on the level of modern slavery in the UK is understandably difficult, but in 2020 the Home Office said reports to the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for recording modern slavery cases, rose by 52% between 2018 and 2019. Estimates have put the number of victims in the UK at more than 100,000. Globally there are an estimated 24.9 million people in forced labour.

The coronavirus pandemic has only served to increase risk. Achilles, global leader for supply chain risk and performance management, interviewed more than 500 workers in 2020 through its Labour Practice Audits and found 52% were not required to provide original copies of appropriate documentation as evidence of eligibility to work, while 23% were required to pay administration or management fees of up to 10% of their weekly earnings. Covid-19 restrictions have meant text and WhatsApp have been used to check documentation without the individual even being seen.

Shared data increases visibility

Achilles has recently formed a partnership with Unseen UK, a leading charity working to end modern slavery. Anonymised data from the charity’s Modern Slavery Helpline will be shared with Achilles to help inform the company’s customers by providing greater visibility into reported cases of exploitation and deeper insights into issues that may be present in their supply chain.

“Providing these insights to our customers will allow buying organisations to act quickly to eliminate any issues and uncover the exploitation of vulnerable individuals before it escalates into a major incident,” says Adam Whitfield, audit programme manager at Achilles.

Construction, textiles and agriculture are the industries most at risk from modern slavery, according to Whitfield. He says the partnership with Unseen means the two organisations can compare notes on issues emerging via Achilles’ audits and through Unseen’s helpline.

He adds: “It’s not just about us trying to find issues for the sake of it. What we want to be able to offer our customers and their suppliers is, ‘If we find things, we’re working with Unseen now and they’re able to support you in closing out some of these issues’.”

Courtenay Forbes, account manager at Unseen UK, says partnerships with businesses such as Achilles are essential to the organisation’s work.

“Our work with business is a crucial part of how we aim to achieve our goal of a world without [modern] slavery,” she says.

“Modern slavery is at its heart a very serious organised crime. It’s severe human rights abuse, but it’s also a financial and often a business transaction. The profits it generates mean it can’t be tackled unless businesses across society are really engaged with the issue and proactively tackle it as well.”

Active monitoring is essential. Risk mapping and a clear understanding of the supply chain – including where work is being subcontracted out or passed to others – are central to addressing the issue, says Whitfield. But it’s also important to conduct audits – Achilles’ audits include face-to-face interviews – to ensure companies are doing what they say they’re doing.

Whitfield emphasises the process should be ongoing. “I think it’s about driving initiatives where you’re sharing best practice, and you’re trying to engage in an open, transparent way to drive things forward.”

“This is what we’re seeing with customers in terms of trying to drive improvement within their supply chains, as opposed to just saying, ‘Compliant or not compliant’.”

Modern slavery is a spectrum

One of the key messages to emerge from Achilles’ audit data is modern slavery is one aspect on a spectrum of labour issues. These could include lesser infringements, such as taking administrative fees that result in wages below the legal minimum.

Katie Tamblin, chief product officer at Achilles, says: “Modern slavery is a very charged term, but when you get into the details, it’s a spectrum of activity. It’s useful for procurement professionals to see what that spectrum looks like. It’s not like you either have a really bad guy who’s keeping workers captive, or you’re perfect with fantastic labour practices. We can all be educated and more transparent and improve.”

Tackling modern slavery risk offers the opportunity to audit suppliers in a holistic way to produce a more rounded picture of their performance, while eliminating duplication of effort.

“Procurement has an opportunity to get out in front and say, ‘We just need to assure our suppliers, full stop’, and modern slavery is a part of that,” says Tamblin. “But this can include everything else we need to know and assure about those suppliers. It should be one workflow and one practice in a coordinated effort.”

Work to minimise modern slavery risk and improve ESG standards will have benefits for procurement professionals in the C-suite, where the “board challenge” is to attract investment in a world where sustainability and ESG form the competitive advantage.

“That board challenge is becoming a procurement mandate,” says Tamblin. “It is now procurement’s job to make sure we’re as attractive as we can be to pull in investments.”

About Achilles

Achilles Information is the global leader and partner of choice for supply chain risk and performance management. Through supplier pre-qualification programmes, industry audits and risk management, Achilles has been a pivotal link between buyers and suppliers for nearly 30 years, providing the data and perspective to give customers unparalleled levels of insight into the businesses they work with.

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