Major companies 'complacent' on slavery

10 October 2017

Some of the world’s major brands are failing to report the risks of slavery and trafficking in their operations and supply chains, according to a corporate campaign group.

Under the UK's 2015 Modern Slavery Act, all businesses with more than £36m of turnover must produce an annual statement that outlines actions they have taken to battle slavery in their supply chains.

CORE, a campaign group on corporate accountability, said their study of 50 big name brands showed many statements were short on detail and lacked transparency.

CORE added that just over 3,000 companies had met a deadline of 30 September for filing statements under the Modern Slavery Act, meaning thousands had failed to comply by the deadline. 

Marilyn Croser, CORE’s director, said major companies had not been taking the required reporting seriously.

“The level of complacency from major companies, particularly those that trumpet their corporate social responsibility, is startling,” she said.

“Genuine transparency about the problem is needed, not just more PR.”

An estimated 24.9m people are in forced labour globally and nearly one in 10 children around the world is a victim of child labour, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). 

The study looked at statements from 25 companies sourcing raw materials linked to labour exploitation, including cocoa from West Africa, mined gold, mica from India, Indonesian palm oil and tea from Assam.

The other 25 companies were involved in high-risk sectors such as clothing, hotels and construction, which are considered high risk partly because of their hospitality and merchandising operations.

CORE said it does not directly allege any of the named companies have slavery or human trafficking in their operations but that the quality of many statements suggested companies were not taking the issue seriously.

The report said although child labour and forced labour were endemic in West African cocoa production, Mars was the only chocolate company of those studied to specifically acknowledge possible risks in the supply chain. 

Other companies, including Ferrero and Lindt & Sprungli, failed to provide information on their supply chains, despite the companies acknowledging in other publically available documents that they source from West Africa, the report said.

The report also found cosmetic giants, including L’Oreal and Estee Lauder, also did not mention of the risks of slavery associated with mica—a mineral used in make-up. 

Most mica comes from northeast India where around 20,000 children are estimated to work in hundreds of mica mines, according to the ILO.

Responding to the report, L’Oreal said its commitment to sourcing mica in India is reported on its website and its statement under the Modern Slavery Act should be read in conjunction with its public reporting. 

“At L’Oreal we take this topic very seriously and have a zero tolerance policy with regards to any type of forced labour including modern slavery,” it said.

L’Oreal’s website states that its “limited number of suppliers” in India obtain mica from legal mines where working conditions and human rights are closely monitored. Most of the mineral the company uses is from North and South America.

The report also found no jewellery firms, including Tiffany & Co. and Pandora, had included any substantive information on their supply chains, even though the risks slavery and trafficking linked to gold-mining are mentioned in other public documents.

Claus Teilmann, Pandora’s vice president of ethics, told Reuters it focused as much as possible on using recycled gold.

“We take this issue very seriously—86% of our gold is recycled and 100% is certified,” he said. 

The report added the only tea company to specifically reference sourcing risks related to Assam in its statement is Bettys & Taylors. Of the other three companies that have published statements, two did not go beyond making general references to human rights issues and conditions on tea estates. 

Assam in northeast India is a region where low wages have been linked to human trafficking on tea estates.

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