Show us proof there aren’t slaves in your supply chain, UK gov tells big firms

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

“The fact that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history is shameful," says UK minister
“The fact that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history is shameful," says UK minister

Related tags: Supply chain, Slavery

The UK government wants big businesses to present annual evidence of the actions they have taken to ensure their supply chains are slavery free.

The plan came as part of its Modern Slavery Bill, which was currently going through parliament. Today was the last committee stage of the bill before it went to the report stage. The home office said it hoped it would be on the statute books by the end of this parliament.

It said the bill, which would be similar to transparency requirements in California, went further than any comparable legislation in the world by applying to businesses regardless of their nature or what they supplied. This could include both goods and services.

Exact thresholds for company size have yet to be clarified, but a consultation will be held to decide this.

Discussing the move, Karen Bradley, UK minister for modern slavery and organised crime, said there were already many companies showing a lead and taking action. However, she added: “Greater transparency will give customers, campaigners and shareholders the information they need to hold all big business to account while also supporting companies to do the right thing.”

Cases of labour exploitation overtook that of sexual exploitation, according to a report​ published by the Salvation Army yesterday, which looked at its support services for adult victims of human trafficking identified in England and Wales.

Labour exploitation on the up

Between July 2011 and June 2014, 42% of the 1,800 people referred to the charity’s human trafficking unit had been subjected to labour exploitation, compared to 38% subjected to sexual exploitation and 10% to domestic servitude. It said the jump in labour figures in England and Wales were likely due to an increase in police controls and rescue operations.

Anne Read, the charity's anti-trafficking response coordinator, said this increase was saddening, but was pleased with the increase in offensive authority action to bring perpetrators to justice and work across sectors to raise awareness.

Meanwhile, Bradley said: “The fact that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history is shameful. We all have a responsibility to stamp out this evil trade and this world leading measure calls on business to play their part.”

Fishing out the problem

Slavery in food supply chains hit headlines this summer when an investigation by the UK newspaper The Guardian alleged slave workers​ subjected to intimidation and violence were manning Thai fishmeal boats, which supplied the European prawn industry.

The home office was unable to provide clarification on how far back this legislation - plans for which pre-dated the Guardian report - would take the supply chain in such cases. Instead a spokesperson reiterated that the bill was still under consultation and that once finalised statutory guidance would be given on the kind of information needed to show a company's comply.

Other moves in this area included a document entitled Transparency in the UK Food Supply Chain – Guidance on ensuring ethical labour standards​ ​in August this year from NGO Stronger Together. ​It said its guidance sought to lay out pragmatic and straightforward good practice for UK-based growers and producers.

Related topics: Sustainability, Food prices, Policy

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