Five steps to tackle unethical supply chains

With big business soon to be held fully accountable for keeping supply chains slavery-free, edie has spoken to industry experts for guidance on addressing the full range of CSR issues through all the levels of the supply chain.

The Home Office has this week announced that large companies will have to publically state what actions they have taken each year to ensure their supply chains are slavery-free. The measure is to be included in the Modern Slavery Bill, currently going through Parliament.

The provision is partly modelled on transparency laws in California, which apply to businesses that produce goods for sale. The new measure in Britain would to apply more widely to all large companies, regardless of their products or their nature.

“Greater transparency will give customers, campaigners and shareholders the information they need to hold all big business to account while also supporting companies to do the right thing,” said the Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime Karen Bradley.

Moral duty

So, to help businesses dig deep within their supply chains to tackle slave labour, or any other unethical CSR practice, edie has heard from Achilles – which works on behalf of more than 900 buying organisations across the world including Shell and EDF Energy – to manage information about their suppliers.

Achilles’ CSR manager Jon Williams said: “Global businesses have a moral duty to tackle slavery – irrespective of their regional laws or geographic location.

“By its nature, slavery is often hidden deep within the supply chains of big businesses. Modern supply chains are highly complex and it can be a real challenge for large businesses to know who their suppliers are – which would make it impossible to check their ethical credentials.

“With a renewed focus from Government, the smartest businesses now have a real opportunity to address not only slavery, but the full range of CSR issues, by following these five key steps…”

Five steps to tackle supply chain challenges

1) Implement a comprehensive CSR ‘screening’ questionnaire for all suppliers – “Buying organisations should set clear standards required of suppliers and survey them with a questionnaire. Buyers can eliminate poor performing suppliers,” said Williams.

2) Get a proper system for managing information about their suppliers – “Businesses should implement a single database of information about suppliers to help proactively identify and mitigate potential CSR issues.”

3) Adopt a collaborative approach to gathering information – “There is strength in numbers. By working collaboratively, businesses can share the burden of gathering information about suppliers – since many rely on the same companies.”

4) ‘Map’ supply chains to find out the identity of all their suppliers – “Businesses can send automated requests for information down through their supply chain to identify suppliers through all the levels. It’s important to get the buy-in of suppliers, since they can also help identify their sub-suppliers.”

5) Audit – “Once they know who is in their supply chain, businesses can audit all the suppliers to gain confidence they are not using slave labourers – or any other unethical CSR practice.”

A consultation will be held to set the exact threshold for the size of businesses affected by the Modern Slavery Bill; ‘to ensure the system is both fair and robust’. Statutory guidance will also be produced setting out the kinds of information that might be disclosed to help companies comply.

Luke Nicholls

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