Coffee is one of the products "most likely to have been made using modern slaves", claims law firm © RAFAEL MARTINS/AFP via Getty Images
Coffee is one of the products "most likely to have been made using modern slaves", claims law firm © RAFAEL MARTINS/AFP via Getty Images

£14bn of UK goods sourced from 'dubious supply chains'

21 October 2020

Around £14bn of goods imported into the UK are sourced from “dubious supply chains”, a law firm has claimed.

Law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp said £14bn of imported goods in 2019 were sourced from countries with a high risk of modern slavery, based on data from the 2018 Global Slavery Index.

The firm calculated £14bn worth of products by taking the six main types of products “most likely to have been made using modern slaves”, which were clothing, computers and phones, fish, rice, coffee and cocoa, and tobacco.

The import values of clothing, computers and phones, fish, and rice came from the Global Slavery Index 2018. Coffee, cocoa and tobacco values were found by cross referencing goods identified by the US Department of Labor as “problematic” with UK ONS data on commodities, country of origin, and import value.

The calculation found the top three types imported products in 2019 “most likely to be linked to modern slavery” were clothing, computers and phones, and coffee and cocoa, according to the report

This included:

  • Over £7bn of the imported clothes made in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Over £6.1bn worth of computers and phones sourced from China and Malaysia.
  • Around £660m worth of coffee and cocoa produced across 17 different countries including Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Brazil, Vietnam and Columbia.
  • Other imported products most likely to be made using modern slavery included fish (£364m), rice (£134m), and tobacco (£19.5m).

Bolt Burdon Kemp called on the public to take action, saying that modern slavery “exists in all stages of the supply chain”.

It added: “Modern slaves may be picking raw materials, producing and manufacturing goods, and shipping and delivering them to you. Everything from your mobile phone, your trainers and the t-shirt on your back, to the coffee grains or tea bags that help get you through the day, could all be tainted by the fact that modern slaves were exploited to produce them.

“Victims may have no way out – and some may not even realise they’re being exploited. It’s up to us to be aware of the signs of modern slavery so we can take action to help someone when they need it most. We all need to do our bit to stop this criminal industry in its tracks.”

The law firm also claimed “only 29% of companies in the UK know the details of their supply chain”, based on modern slavery statements submitted by firms under the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015, with only 29% meeting all minimum requirements.

The firm said: “It’s expected that, in their modern slavery statements, companies mention any items in their supply chain that may be produced by modern slaves – and what steps they’ve taken to remove them from their supply chain.

“Companies that fail to mention problematic products automatically demonstrate a lack of transparency.”

The firm used 2018 assessments of UK Modern Slavery Act transparency and modern slavery statements to identify brands which scored highest for transparency. They were: Marks & Spencers (78%), Morrisons (62%), Sainsburys (61%), Tesco (60%), Burberry (59%), Diageo (62%) and Unilever (57%).

Bolt Burdon Kemp said the European Coalition for Corporate Justice's report on slavery statements showed cosmetics companies, including L'Oréal, Revlon, Boots and Estée Lauder, had failed to mention how they were preventing child labour risks in mica supply chains.

Cartier, Goldsmiths, Pandora, and Tiffany and Signet (parent company of H. Samuel and Ernest Jones) also failed to detail action against child labour in their gold mining supply chains within their statements, the law firm claimed.

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