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Eliminating slavery and improving working conditions in global supply chains: A webinar with WBCSD, slavefreetrade and Thomson Reuters Foundation

Eliminating slavery and improving working conditions in global supply chains: A webinar with WBCSD, slavefreetrade and Thomson Reuters Foundation

On July 23, slavefreetrade’s CEO, Brian Iselin, participated in a webinar ‘Eliminating slavery and improving working conditions in global supply chains‘, hosted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), alongside Charlotte Davis, Inclusive Economies Manager of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Moderated by WBCSD’s Social Impact Manager, Davide Fiedler, the discussion centered around the promotion of decent work as a means to end modern slavery, improving global supply chain transparency through better human rights intelligence, as well as how corporate respect for human rights can create transformative value. Below are some of our key takeaways: –

Eliminating modern slavery and promoting decent work: Two sides of the same coin

While it may not be apparent at first glance, the two issues are interlinked. Workplace conditions and practices within businesses, as well as their associated supply chains, can be viewed along a continuum. This ranges from decent working conditions on one end, to varying levels of unethical or abusive labour practices, right down to illegal acts such as forced labour, debt bondage or trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation – that is, those practices which constitute what is termed as ‘modern slavery’. Promoting decent working conditions, through upholding labour standards and respect for human rights in the workplace, are thus part of the same systemic, behavioural change that businesses should undertake, if they are committed towards eliminating modern slavery from their operations and supply chains. 

Increased supply chain visibility, through better human rights intelligence, can create value for businesses 

Supply chains today are global and complex, stretching over multiple tiers. Unfortunately, many businesses have low supply chain traceability and visibility, making it harder for them to address human rights violations, such as modern slavery, occurring within their own supply chains. However, moving forward, this will no longer be the norm. This shift towards increased supply chain transparency is being driven both by growing consumer demand for ethical, sustainable and responsible products, as well as the expansion of legislative regimes to ensure business compliance to human rights, such as the upcoming EU mandatory human rights due diligence law, expected to be put in place by 2021. Clearly then, ethical sourcing and the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, are not just buzzwords nor passing trends. There is serious value for businesses in investing in stronger human rights monitoring within their supply chains. Companies who do so can better anticipate and mitigate business risks, improve supply chain efficiency and resilience, meet investors’ expectations, capture a growing market segment and become industry leaders. 

Best practices for businesses in promoting human rights and eliminating modern slavery within their supply chains:

  • Admit that there is a problem. This is the first step in addressing modern slavery, which is often ‘hidden in plain sight’. Businesses that choose to turn a blind eye and refuse to acknowledge that their supply chains are not slave-free will only exacerbate the problem and their risks in the future.
  • Go beyond the ‘compliance’ mentality. Instead of trying to tick boxes on a checklist and seeking to meet the bare minimum, the most progressive companies see respect for human rights and the promotion of decent work as an opportunity to create transformative change and to better people’s lives. 
  • Rethink the relationship between the company and its suppliers. Businesses that view their suppliers as partners, work to establish long-lasting relationships and support their suppliers in human rights capacity-building are the ones which are the most successful in putting an end to modern slavery. This is a far better strategy than simply dropping a supplier upon discovering human rights violations, as it actually helps victims of modern slavery, instead of merely being a short-term move to protect the company’s reputation (while allowing the problem to persist).
  • Cooperate with other businesses. Companies that are truly committed towards eliminating modern slavery recognise the value of discussing their issues and sharing best practices with each other. Companies can also act together in a coalition to put an end to modern slavery. This helps to address possible concerns over competitiveness and also puts companies in a better position to influence their suppliers to improve working conditions.