How can organisations tackle modern slavery and move their supply chains from a position of risk to one of resilience?

Many organisations will assume modern slavery is something that doesn’t touch them, without understanding the nature and prevalence of a human issue that is both global and local, as BSI Knowledge Solutions’ director of sectors and standards Anne Hayes explains.

How can organisations tackle modern slavery and move their supply chains from a position of risk to one of resilience?

The term covers situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse – often due to threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power and vulnerability. It can see people trafficked from conflict zones or lured from economically devastated communities, forced to work for little or no pay, often living in unimaginable conditions.

Crucially, modern slavery can occur in any type of organisation, large and small, at all stages in the supply chain. For example, there have been high-profile cases involving migrant workers trapped in debt bondage on farms supplying the large supermarket chains from where we buy our groceries. With more than 40.3m people worldwide estimated to be trapped in conditions of modern slavery, this is a sustainability issue. Tackling it is part of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goal of enabling inclusive economic growth and decent work for all.

Even when modern slavery isn’t a direct problem, organisations have a responsibility to ensure it’s not an issue somewhere in the supply chain. A starting point is for organisations to understand the vulnerabilities associated with modern slavery – and to see it as a risk no business can afford. Because the reality is that it’s not just a corporate risk – it’s a serious violation of people’s fundamental human and labour rights.

And it goes beyond that. Once an organisation puts in place supply chain transparency to prevent, identify and manage modern slavery risks, they are better placed to detect other vulnerabilities, whether these are environmental, health and safety, or labour concerns. Moving from risk to resilience on modern slavery is a way to protect an organisation from a whole suite of challenges. And while in the UK only large companies are legally required to declare their modern slavery prevention work, communication by smaller organisations that supply chain risks are being adequately addressed can offer competitive advantage.

The why is clear, but how can organisations move from risk to resilience and support sustainability goals? For starters, it means going beyond being satisfied with mere compliance with legal and statutory duties. It means setting a clear and common path to meaningful action to identify and help eradicate modern slavery risks, regardless of size or sector.

There are many strategies available, and for many organisations it will be an iterative process. One key tool is alignment to an international standard, which can provide a roadmap to achieving best practice. At BSI we are helping organizations of all sizes understand where to start and what practical action they can take.

Developed with support from key partners such as the Slave-Free Alliance and a Survivor Alliance representative, BSI’s standard on modern slavery aims to support organizations in understanding and managing this risk as part of legal and non-legal frameworks. It includes guidance on preventative measures, on identifying, analysing and evaluating exposure to modern slavery risks, approaches to addressing identified risks, remedying modern slavery practices, and reporting mechanisms.

The reality is that we have a certain image in mind when we hear the word slavery. Modern slavery doesn’t always manifest itself in obvious ways or places – but its scale means all of us have a part to play a part in rooting it out of supply chains. Going the extra mile to address wider risks associated with modern slavery, and taking a systematic approach, will enable organisations to truly move from risk to resilience and build a sustainable future of fair work and dignity for all.

WATCH ON-DEMAND: 30-Minute Masterclass: Tackling modern slavery in your supply chain

edie’s recent webinars on sustainable supply chains are now available to watch on-demand, featuring speakers from Ibstock Brick, Golden Agri Resources, Carbon Quota and BSI.

Over the course of 90 minutes on the afternoon of 15 February, edie delivered a 60-minute webinar exploring crucial interlink between supply chain sustainability and net-zero; and a 30-minute masterclass focused on how the Modern Slavery Act can be used to tackle inequalities and enhance social sustainability at every point in the chain.


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