By Jack Kelly
Auditors have an important job to monitor and regulate supply chains. This helps to determine whether there is evidence of labour issues in the workplace. Yet, the rise of modern slavery has left governments and businesses to reconsider other effective means to trace criminal activity.
We spoke with Mark Heath, Deputy Director of Business Change at Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Laura Okkonen, Head of Human Rights at Nokia and Tim Pilch, Head of Ethical Trade at Pentland Brands, about alternative methods besides auditing, to test the presence of forced labour.
Partners in Crime
Mark, Laura and Tim have a shared understanding that low skill/high turnover roles face a greater risk of falling victim to labour issues. Workers, especially in manufacturing, manage high volumes of work and have to meet unrealistic deadlines. They are ‘commodities’; the cogs for an ongoing work machine – not human beings. It would appear that we are successful for implementing ethical policies and initiatives, such as Fairtrade, but we fail to address the real issues that are embedded in our supply chains. Consequently, all three speakers stressed the importance for businesses to, not only be accountable, but to actively engage with employees’ workplace welfare.
The statistics show that South America and Asia are most likely to demonstrate labour issues the strongest potential for modern slavery. Although this should not distract us from the issue on our shores. Mark believes that before we can effectively assist abroad, we need to eradicate the problem here. Furthermore, companies need to identify the risks of using agencies as a means to employ new recruits. Potentially, the lack of direct employment can result in the abuse of human rights, especially in third-world regions, as businesses are not aware of the circumstances.
So, how should businesses combat labour issues?
While audits will remain integral to the future of tackling modern slavery, we need to accept that they are simply not enough. Due to the global nature of supply chains, as Laura recognises, it is incredibly difficult to map out high risk areas and consistently regulate suppliers’ practices. Those who aim to exploit an already vulnerable workforce will test even the most rigorous system. One of the ways to tackle this is to ensure that employees can spot the signs of modern slavery.
Companies also need to implement the right channels through which employees can contact the right authorities, confidentially. If superiors see a worker discussing the nature of the work conditions, then they are potentially in danger. Thus, the privacy of workers is another consideration when dealing with such a sensitive issue. Tim suggests that this is a practical response. Through education, the workforce has an increased awareness on company responsibility as well as the entitlements that they possess as workers.
In this business, trust is essential. Delegation is important since companies are reliant on suppliers transparency to ensure that the appropriate practices are carried out. Businesses and suppliers should work towards having a ‘mutual dialogue’, to allow internal improvements to take place.
Businesses should carefully consider where they plan to manufacture their products. For Pentland Brands, Tim claims that responsible sourcing is vital in their mission to reduce the likelihood of slavery. Research into social and local environment needs to be considered before any process can begin. Country risk and an individual assessment of each site needs to be established.
Mark, Laura and Tim will speak further on this subject at the Second Modern Slavery & Global Supply Chain Summit on 14th November, London. They will be alongside other speakers from JLL, Twinings, Sainsbury’s, Travis Perkins and Baroness Young. Find out more here: https://front-group.co.uk/modernslavery/
Photo credit, Adv.Ltd