John Lewis overhauls supplier strategy after slavery case

John Lewis Partnership (JLP) has substantially changed the way it works with UK-based suppliers to identify and protect vulnerable workers, according to the company’s human rights report.

In an update to the report, which covers 2016-17, John Lewis said the changes followed an incident last year when the owner of Kozee Sleep, a UK bed manufacturer, was convicted of conspiracy to traffick individuals within the UK.

“John Lewis had previously used this factory, and although an audit had been conducted, it became clear through the trial that there was evidence of criminal concealment in this case,” said the report.

“As a consequence of this case, John Lewis reviewed and substantially changed the way it works with UK-based suppliers, specifically to identify and protect vulnerable workers.”

Using independent data, such as the Maplecroft global risk tools and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Annual Survey, to assess its own performance Waitrose found eight instances where management processes had not been followed.

These incidences increased the risk of modern slavery occurring in the supply chain, the report found.

Waitrose has introduced human rights questions into the Waitrose Farm Assessment and in 2016 John Lewis launched the Better Work Programme, which adopted new requirements for four high-risk sourcing countries – Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

The initiative aims to improve working conditions and competitiveness in the clothing industry.

Risk assessments were carried out on Waitrose suppliers on 13 sites in the UK, Spain and Italy, responsible for growing mushrooms, leeks, cabbages, salad crops, tree fruit and tomatoes.

JLP delivered training on UK employment law and the Modern Slavery Act to 107 UK suppliers.

Ten factories participated in the Model Factory Programme, which involved detailed audits to identify issues related to their employment practices.

JLP trained 70 members of the procurement department on ethical procurement practices and appointed a corporate social responsibility lead to the procurement function to develop strategies for sourcing of goods not for resale (GNFR).

The group said CSR initiatives and risk assessments would particularly focus on labour providers.

It also launched a pilot in three factories in China to improve dialogue between workers and managers and drive improvement in labour practices.

Tracey Killen, director of personnel at JLP, said in Thailand, a major sourcing country for shellfish retailers, Waitrose extended its auditing programme to gain more visibility of the seafood industry and to engage workers on the ground.

The report said Waitrose has 14,900 own-brand products sourced from more than 70 countries, while John Lewis has 65,875 own-brand products sourced from over 1,600 factories in more than 50 countries. Principal supplier countries are the UK, China and India.

Killen added: “Business cannot tackle modern slavery alone, and so we are committed to working with a range of stakeholders to protect workers.”

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