The issue of slavery is one which has rightly featured heavily in the news recently.
Across the globe, people are demonstrating on the streets, protesting the prejudice and injustice that continues to subvert our society. But the question remains, will 2020 be the year we finally start to achieve environmental and social justice for all?
A key issue which has arisen from the recent protests is, how do we deal with our history? The fact is many celebrated elements of British culture have a lesser publicised malevolent side. From Sir Francis Drake’s defeat of the Spanish Armada (he was also a slave trader) to Robert Baden-Powell’s fame for starting the Scout movement (who also called Mein Kampf “a wonderful book”). And perhaps the most graphic example of recent direct action is the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol. Colston was involved in the slave trade and the transport of approximately 80,000 slaves from West Africa to the Americas. His statue has long caused controversy and, after the recent protests, lay in the mud at the bottom of Bristol Harbour.
Will 2020 be the year we finally start to achieve environmental and social justice for all?
Of course, it is also important to remember that slavery is not an issue consigned to the history books. Today, it is estimated that approximately 40 million people globally are subject to a form of modern slavery, with 1 in 4 being children, and 71% women or girls. There are more slaves today in absolute numbers than during the height of the slave trade. Indeed, it is pertinent to think that the cobalt in the batteries of mobile phones filming Edward Colston’s descent to the depths may well have come from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC supplies approximately 60% of the worlds cobalt and its mines stand accused of numerous human rights abuses, including slavery, use of child labour and supply of conflict minerals.
The current protests are rightfully shining a light on the uncomfortable truth that slavery played a significant part in the growth of the UK, and indeed, many other economies. It is also equally important to move this conversation into the context of the inequalities and discrimination happening today to ensure that they do not form part of our future.
Unquestionably, focusing on historical slavery is important, however we should not forget that slavery still exists today, and that includes in the UK. In 2019, there were 5,144 prosecutions for modern slavery offences in England and Wales (a 51% increase on 2018), the majority of these being for labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude.
Whilst we are taking the time to consider social injustice and inequality, we must not lose sight of the purchases we make every day. There is a need for us all to hold organisations to account for their role in human rights breaches within their supply chains.
The Modern Slavery Act requires businesses to publish actions they have taken to address labour exploitation in their supply chain. If change is to be embedded, we all need to consider an organisation’s approach to slavery before we consider where we spend our money.
The Supply Chain Sustainability School has developed a wealth of resources to help organisations understand what modern slavery is and how organisations can tackle supply chain risks. The following free resources can explain more:
You may well find it useful to pose the following questions to your own organisation:
To take action even further, the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s People Matter Charter contains eight commitments to treat people responsibly, and it’s an easy way to show that your organisation is committed to ethical labour standards and tackling issues like slavery.
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