Some 24.9 million people across the world were trapped in forced labour in 2016, according to a study by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation. It’s a staggering number and one that highlights an issue that is affecting every country, every industry, every business, every procurement function and every consumer.
Modern slavery is a scourge on global supply chains. From cleaning services all the way through to the mining of precious metals and minerals, there are ‘at risk’ jobs all around us.
To try and break the bonds of slavery in the UK and in global supply chains, the British government introduced the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. As part of this Act, all large businesses are required to produce an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to prevent slavery in their businesses and supply chains.
While the government has published guidance papers to help firms successfully produce their own reports, many have still found the process challenging.
It was these challenges that took centre stage at a recent Procurement Leaders roundtable discussion, hosted in partnership with the diversified building materials group CRH, at the firm’s offices in central London.
Those in attendance were unanimous in their agreement that producing such a document had been difficult but were equally unanimous in their belief that this was the right thing to do and would help their functions and wider businesses try to end modern slavery.
One of the key challenges raised was the difficulty of simply putting the statement together for the first time. Many agreed that knowing what to include in the statement, knowing which internal stakeholders to involve in the process, and securing sign off for the statement hadn’t been easy.
They were, however, quick to add that with the first statement setting a standard they were now eager to do more and go further. There was also talk about bringing in internal marketing and communication teams and education programmes to try and increase understanding within the business around the issue of modern slavery and why steps are being taken.
One attendee said they had introduced a training programme for new recruits in which they were required to participate in a 20-minute session on what the business was doing in this space when they first joined the company, followed by a 40-minute session a few weeks later.
Another challenge cited was the capability of procurement teams to find out with confidence what is happening within the depths of their supply chains. Some spoke of using supplier audits and questionnaires and, while there was recognition that these are useful, there was also an acceptance that they can only achieve so much, especially when it comes to the lower tiers of a supply chain where risk is higher.
Going forward, the majority of attendees said they were keen to involve more internal stakeholders such as legal, compliance and engineering in creating the next statement, so as to bring their expertise to the table and secure greater buy-in across the business.
There was a clear appetite among the procurement executives gathered at the roundtable to finally stamp out slavery from their supply chains and businesses. While challenging to implement, there were no complaints that this was a burdensome exercise. Rather, there was a common acceptance that, with experience, they will understand more about the risks and where they need to exert pressure to ensure everyone at work is safe.
This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.