Corporate approaches to addressing modern slavery in supply chains

In October 2015, complying with the UK Modern Slavery Act became a legal requirement for at least 12,000 companies in the UK and around the world.

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The Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Hult International Business School and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) partnered to lead this research into company perspectives and responses to the risks of modern slavery in their global supply chains -- against a backdrop of increasing global human rights legislation and reporting requirements.

Who took part?

We engaged with a range of companies that are already actively managing labour standards in their supply chains. We interviewed 21 leading brands, retailers and suppliers from clothing, grocery, department store, home and garden retail, beverage, fresh produce and health and personal care sectors. Companies were a mix of ETI and non-ETI members. 51 brands and retailers participated in a wider survey.

The following companies were willing to be named as participants: ASDA, B&Q, Co-operative Food, Debenhams, Eileen Fisher, Fyffes, Inditex, John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer, Matrix APA, Morrisons, Next, Patagonia, SABMiller, Sainsbury's, Tesco, The Body Shop, Waitrose.


Our specific aims were to:

• Provide insights into the motivation, drivers and practices of companies as they develop policies and strategies to address or mitigate the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains;

• Provide insights for companies engaging with modern slavery for the first time by sharing the experience and learning of others, helping to accelerate the Modern Slavery Act's aim of creating a level playing field;

• Create a qualitative baseline for ETI on how their member companies are addressing modern slavery at the time the Modern Slavery Act is coming into force.

What did we find?

From our interviews and survey with companies, we found that modern slavery is widely perceived to be present in supply chains and that there are a number of important drivers and catalysts prompting companies to get engaged. Companies perceive modern slavery in different ways and are undertaking a range of practices and activities, depending on their level of experience and where they are in their journey. There are a number of enabling factors that enhance their ability to take action. Each section in the report illustrates these findings with quotes from those interviewed, and highlights of the findings include:

1. 71% of companies believe there is a likelihood of modern slavery occurring at some stage in their supply chains: it is complex, hidden and challenging to address.

2. Addressing modern slavery in supply chains requires urgent action. It is a terrible abuse and though changes may take time, it is encouraging to see the momentum building and the steps companies are already taking.

3. Addressing it is a leadership issue - supply chains themselves are complex, and companies need to find ways to innovate and change their business models to root out the existence and risk of modern slavery. Top management leadership is essential.

4. This report looks at what companies are already doing - acknowledging it is a complex problem - and draws together the steps they are taking to help others engage with the issues faster.

5. Collaboration - with competitors and with NGOs, governments and others - is essential for companies to be able to tackle it. They have to find ways to overcome competitive barriers.

Research team

This research was a collaboration between the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Hult International Business School, and the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). The project team included Quintin Lake, Jamie MacAlister, Matthew Gitsham and Nadine Page at Ashridge, and Cindy Berman from ETI.

Download a copy of the report

About Ashridge and the MSc in Sustainability and Responsibility

Established in 1959, Ashridge is a leading business school for working professionals with an international reputation for leadership development. It is in the 1% of business schools globally accredited by AMBA, EQUIS and AACSB; the UK, European and American accreditation bodies. Each year it works with over 6,000 managers from 850 organisations in 60 countries.

Working initially with Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop International, then at the University of Bath, the Ashridge faculty developed a radically new form of business education, placing the perspectives and methods of self-awareness and action inquiry at the heart of developing leaders for a sustainable future. Much of what is becoming mainstream in corporate sustainability and sustainable leadership development today was foreshadowed in that work - from mindful awareness to conscious capitalism, social enterprise to systems innovation, eco-literacy to collaborative dialogue, these themes have threads of their development in the work of the Bath and Ashridge programmes.

The next programme starts on 19 April 2016. Click here to apply.

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