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Notes on modern slavery and forced labour, including leaders and laggards

Here are some of my notes from our recent conference on this subject. These are just from a few sessions, so only represent a snapshot of the conference, which was fascinating.

To get the full notes or experience, you’d need to attend. Sorry, but publishing is like the music industry now: It’s all about the live event, or no business model seems to exist.

We’re hosting another one at the end of the year in London so please get in touch if you’d like to get involved. In keeping with our use of the Chatham House Rule on non-disclosure they are anonymised, but there are some companies, governments and initiatives named.

Five trends in human rights, modern slavery and forced labour

1) Increasing reporting regulations around the world. From the starting point of the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, to the UK Modern Slavery Act, to the French law on Vigilance, reporting regulations are now spreading to Australia, Cambodia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, with more nations showing serious interest/intent on modern slavery reporting.
2) Innovation and technology is beginning to take hold, with applications from big data to benchmarking to block chain and other tracking and tracing technologies all becoming ever more significant in the battle against modern slavery in supply chains.
3) Litigation and parent company “Duty of Care” cases in the UK are driving both legal interest and case law. Two cases in particular demonstrate there is no guarantee cases will not go to the UK Supreme Court
4) There is an increasing overlap between human rights and environmental issues, for example, ExxonMobil, the case against them by the City of New York is around how human rights are affected by climate change. In other nations, from Peru to the Philippines the impacts of climate change on humans is becoming an area of litigation.
5) Human rights and digital privacy. Increasing regulation, such in the UK, around privacy and a digital benchmarking study shows a growing trend in general data protection

Notes on who leads, who lags and hotspot places in sourcing

• There are around 13,000 people “at risk” from modern day slavery in the UK. Millions more world-wide.
• Real progress is being made in some companies, where legislation has driven meaningful change and suppliers are becoming engaged.
• International interest is growing, for example in the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) member states around public procurement.
• However the UK, seen as a leader, is falling short on creating a level playing field, with a lack of enforcement – and awareness – of the law meaning suppliers and SMEs are not at the table.
• The HOW question dominates the debate amongst the engaged companies. Data, technology, reporting drivers all help, but we know cross-border collaboration is key. The case of Italian Tomatoes (also see here) demonstrates that clearly. Companies need to understand political and local social contexts, as in the case of Florida tomatoes too. More here.
• Worker engagement and worked agency is key. They are different things. Tackling worker’s right is not just about their voices, but also about making sure they have choices.
• Trade Unions need to get a lot better at helping vulnerable workers in supply chains.
• In Asia the Bali Process (Since its inception in 2002, the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (Bali Process) has effectively raised regional awareness of the consequences of people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime.) has become a useful forum with more than 40 countries involved.
• Back to the UK, only 50% of firms have made modern slavery statements, looking at the UK registry. Most are poor, in an analysis of the FTSE100, 70% score only 4/10.
• Most UK statements are not meeting legal requirements. Nine companies stand out as excellent: Marks & Spencer, Unilever, BAT, ABF, Burberry, Reckitt Benckiser, Sainsbury’s, Diageo and Tesco. Other companies cited as progressive include Vodafone, whilst M&S and Unilever are publishing lists of Tier 1 suppliers, whilst Intel are mapping migrant workers and Adidas are undertaking workshops with Tier 2 suppliers in Asia. Asos and Whistles have taken leading positions on recruitment fees in Asia. Tesco were cited for working hard behind the scenes in places such as Zimbabwe, to cover worker wages unpaid by rogue supplier(s).
• On recruitment of migrant labour, one speaker noted “recruitment problems start in the villages”
• Laggards were named as Halfords in the UK and Amazon in general, along with construction companies, Thai fishing, and countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, where issues in denim are serious and ongoing.

Practical actions to take when encountering Modern Slavery

• When finding modern slavery, quickly disclose what’s happened. Talk about your plan to fix it, tailor your approaches to media, shareholders, NGOs.
• Key questions to ask: Is it in our chain? Do we have leverage? What’s the context and what’s in the contracts?
• Discuss your process, how this could have happened, and what happens now. Wha are the signs you should have seen?
• Don’t panic! The police are there to support you, Modern Slavery is a crime.
• Don’t forget the victims, how can their experience be remediated? Can
• Could contracts have included modern slavery, how can these be adjusted in future to ensure supplier liability for trashing your reputation. Could buyers use contract stipulations to sue rogue suppliers?

Auditing for modern slavery and forced labour

• Audits are never a substitute for worker engagement. Quality is often poor and “audits don’t reveal many victims of modern slavery”.
• Audits needs to focus on the behaviours, not just the surroundings.
• Ask yourself: Can worker dialogue mechanisms be structured into contracts?
• Audits, if unannounced, are just “a very expensive, staged snapshot of a place at a particular time”.
• Getting past audit challenges is about building trust, not playing cat and mouse.
• Audits don’t capture dynamic market movements.
• Transparency means publishing data and real results and real detail on what’s happening.
• Train health and safety teams in what do look when it comes to modern slavery.
• Aim for a “continuous improvement process that eliminates risk as you go”.
• Technology can play a key role, dashboards, monitoring etc.

On collaborations that drive change

• Partnering with NGOs which can help build capacity in justice systems can have important and significant results

• A key step is the identify parts of the justice system where people want to make a difference.

• In Thailand one NGO, working with a large company on training police, justice officials, found that around 20% of officials were colluding with corruption, around 20% had pride in their work, and 60% were “getting by, going where the wind blows”.

• Investigators working for NGOs can do ‘legwork’ and present evidence to the police for raid. Policemen can be trained in modern slavery, what it looks like and what to do.

• Providing human rights defenders with public profile can help provide protection for them.

• One key is to encourage governmental departments to have pride in their system and seek to enforce the laws. “You need enough people at the top to give you the space” to operate.

• However, it can be a long hard road, with only one in twenty police chiefs interested in the offer of capacity building assistance in some countries such as Thailand.

• “Aftercare” programmes are vitally important, for victims. These need to be thoughtful and comprehensive. There IS a body of work showing change, that can be used to showcase opportunities to the rest of government, with regard to building institutional capacity to protect human rights.

• There’s a long way to go. Police in Thailand are often unaware of the significance of modern slavery and of the tools they can use to tackle it.

• The Seafood Taskforce for Thailand has challenges around degrees of Government advocacy.

• 88% of people studied by one NGO, in Thai fishing, had papers taken, whilst 76% were in debt bondage.

If this was useful, consider joining us for this:

How business can tackle modern slavery and forced labor

Comply with legislation, mitigate risk and eliminate slavery from your operations and supply chain

12th-13th June 2018, New York

Hosted by Freshfields, and with speakers at a senior level from: General Electric, US Department of Homeland Security, Barrick Gold Corporation, Revlon Inc, Nestlé and many more.

This conference is designed to inform business delegates how to comply with emerging legislation and mitigate supply chain risk to tackle slavery throughout supply chains and operations. Through two-days of focused discussion, delegates will be provided with the practical tools to prevent, detect and remedy cases of forced labor within company supply chains. With an emphasis on emerging national and international legislation, we’ll assess how US companies will be affected and how business can most efficiently comply with all requirements.


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