How Can Your Business Make an Impactful Stand Against Modern Slavery? By Helen Carter

When supporting our clients in sustainable procurement, we regularly hear phrases such as:

“This is too complicated, can you make it simpler?”

“We are already stretched can you give me a tick sheet to complete that means I can say I am compliant?”

“We are already a sustainable company! Look at our carbon strategy and our new solar panels!”

“How am I supposed to eradicate modern slavery?”

“Tell me how I can tell my clients I have eradicated modern slavery from my supply chains!”

There are so many challenges that businesses are currently having to deal with; increasing prices, economic instability, geo-political instability, increased understand and scrutiny of supply chains, societal differences in expectations of businesses, Brexit, COVID-19.

Operating a business is hard in 2022, and whilst it is heartening to see businesses embrace sustainability, it is also interesting to see the tensions between growth, economic stability, and the increase in greenwashing that is being played out amongst clients and consumers and the businesses who are trying to really get to grips with it all. A recent article from CIPS highlights how modern slavery risks falling off procurement’s radar and highlights the challenge we are facing in today’s current economic climate.

Businesses are embracing the carbon challenge and that does not appear to be diminishing in importance.  In fact, as we are seeing the growing crises relating to climate change play out, businesses are struggling to react fast enough.

If all this is happening and carbon still seems to be in the psyche of businesses, it is OK if organisations take their foot off the gas in relation to modern slavery, isn’t it?

Simply put the answer is no.

Increased human vulnerability brought on by issues relating to changing climate conditions and our unchecked desire to consume and innovate is already showing signs of a seriously negative impact on the issue of modern slavery. We cannot disconnect one of these issues from the other, otherwise we will be creating a series of unintended consequences that will see some of the biggest human rights challenges in our history (some believe we already are).

So how do we pull all this together and make modern slavery and labour exploitation part of an organisation’s consciousness and becoming part of “normal business activity.” There is guidance on the mechanics already out there with the BS25700 – Organisational Responses to Modern Slavery but these are what I call the hard activities.  What businesses really need to consider are the links directly to culture and beliefs and will make or break any steps and processes that are instilled.

Here are four tips that can help your business address modern slavery in an impactful way.

Make peace with not solving the problem of eradicating modern slavery

The call to eradicate modern slavery is collective. States, society, and organisations have an important role to play but not one organisation or person can do this alone. This feels strange when businesses are asked by clients and stakeholders, “Tell me what you have done to eradicate modern slavery from your supply chains?”

Even in sectors where some product supply chains are simple, there is still a big challenge gaining the necessary transparency to understand labour exploitation in the buried supply chains. Where it can be found, it may be linked to state policies and cultures where exploitation is normalised and businesses are challenged with adopting local laws, becoming a disruptor, or walking away.

Whilst this may sound like support for “It’s too big so I’ll ignore it.”, this is actually calling out for a change in perception. Rather than eradicating modern slavery, build your organisation on the “principal of do no harm”. Think of health and safety, that is at the forefront of any responsible businesses mind. Can you adopt the approach that makes sure that in the scramble for economic growth you are not undertaking activity that supports modern slavery and labour exploitation demand?

Stop seeing modern slavery as a compliance issue

Whilst legal teams dive into the legislation, the reality is, legislation is messy and unclear, and the vehicle for the strategic litigators who are testing the boundaries of what can and cannot hold businesses to account. Your system, processes, and ambition should be to establish an effective due diligence system that runs through the heart of how your organisation operates. It is about:

  • Preventing
  • Identifying
  • Mitigating
  • Remediating

In a strange way you want to look and find that it and that stands you in good stead from a litigation perspective. It also helps those who are vulnerable really get the help and support they need. Remember when assessing risk, businesses must not only consider risk to themselves but also risk to the people within the business and supply chain.

Be connected

If you are not familiar with Just Transition, then you’ll become familiar as COP27 will bring more of this thinking into the forefront. However sustainability is not just carbon, or modern slavery, a series of monetised metrics or even a passing fancy. It is just the way a business operates when taking note of its environmental, social, and economic climate. You cannot address climate change without impacting human rights and economic models (that’s why its hard) so when addressing modern slavery understand that sometimes your most powerful weapons are the interdependencies that make your business more resilient and address the root cause of the issue, such as discrimination, pay, wellbeing, and employment conditions to name a few. If you silo the impacts of your business, you create a less flexible and inefficient organisation that will never be able to adjust to this new uncertain “normal”.

Take time 

When raising awareness, it is common to shine a light on the horrors people are subjected to. It places the message front and centre. This creates a need in people to run and tackle the problem quickly, but when it fails the momentum ceases and nothing has changed.  Create your plan, understand the need for resource dedication and focus on key areas intensely rather than multiple areas with a light touch. This goes back to tips one and two, if you move to a psyche of do no harm, look to embed a due diligence process, the time you dedicate to addressing this will evolve into systematic change that is necessary to really support the wider collective call to eradicate modern slavery.

Interested in how we can help your organisation with your modern slavery strategy? Get in touch with our expert Helen Carter here.

Explore how the healthcare industry can fight against modern slavery.

Discover how the built environment can fight against modern slavery.

For more information

Helen Carter
Lead Consultant

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