The introduction of anti-slavery legislation in the UK and USA is a move towards extending international human rights into the sphere of international trade.
Modern slavery is a term used to describe employment conditions that are in breach of basic human rights. This can include working unreasonably long hours, unpaid work, being imprisoned in the workplace and other forms of forced labour – as well as human trafficking.
Businesses derive a competitive advantage from low-cost labour which may involve exploitation or forced labour. The consumers of their products or services also benefit.
The US measure brings consequences to the governments of countries that have tolerated or facilitated slavery as a basis of their business and industrial policy. Denying access to a lucrative market for these goods is intended to prompt those who have been enriching themselves through the enslavement of others to reconsider.
The US is also tackling the problem of modern slavery by awarding $18 million in grants and cooperative agreements to combat human trafficking.
A public-private partnership, The Partnership for Freedom, has launched a challenge which calls for technological solutions which identify and address labour trafficking in global supply chains.
The UK Modern Day Slavery Act 2015 (summary here) reflects an increased focus on ethical sourcing but does not allow the UK government to exclude from UK markets goods whose manufacture is tainted by slavery. However, the legislation does require organisations to ensure their supply chains are slavery free. Those with a turnover above £36 million must publish an annual slavery and human trafficking statement, detailing steps taken to ensure these illegal elements are not present in their business or supply chain.
The UK now has an Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner to identify victims of slavery and human trafficking and to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of those offences.
Some companies such as David Jones have developed a five year Ethical Sourcing Strategy to support continuous improvement of people working along their supply chain. Such strategies encourage suppliers to build costs into their business models that accommodate fair work conditions.
The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) suggests steps “organisations can put in place to demonstrate that they are taking the necessary due diligence to keep their supply chains slavery free. This should be part of a much wider risk management strategy addressing all ethical and sustainable procurement practices. “
The CIPS guide Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chains assists procurement, supply chain and sustainability professionals in government and private sector organisations. It offers concrete guidance on how to reduce or eliminate the risk of modern slavery occurring in the organisation’s supply chains, whether as a direct or indirect result of the organisation’s procurement practices.
CIPS also offers an Ethical Procurement and Supply e-learning course which includes an online test Recent legislative steps are “acts of moral leadership”, recognising that business and international trade must be regulated to protect human rights.
Although there is no requirement in Victoria to investigate the supply chain when undertaking procurement, it is clearly a responsible action – see CourtHeath blog Win Win-That’s Social Procurement (15 December 2015).
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A participant in the UN Global Compact, CourtHeath seeks to raise awareness about the sustainable development goals and the principles of the Global Compact with business and government organisations in Victoria. The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour and the effective abolition of child labour are two of the ten principles of the Global Compact. The Global Compact repudiates slavery and child labour internationally.