M&S, Tesco, rank among top UK businesses for modern slavery compliance

Supermarket giants Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Tesco have been named among the corporates leading the FTSE 100's drive for better compliance with the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), in a new ranking of the nation's largest publicly listed organisations.

M&S, Tesco, rank among top UK businesses for modern slavery compliance

The top-ranked companies are M&S

Published by Development International, the 2019 edition of the Global Governance FTSE 100 Index ranks businesses based on whether they have published, as the MSA requires, a public statement on modern slavery this year or during 2018, and how strong these statements are.

It additionally assesses businesses’ wider compliance and conformance with the measures laid out in the MSA, and on the ambition and impact of their policies surrounding human rights in their supply chains, covering labour exploitation, forced labour, child labour and human trafficking.

The table’s top four companies – M&S, Tesco, British American Tobacco and Morrison’s – remain unchanged from the 2018 edition of the rankings, while alcoholic beverage giant Diageo rose up the table to rank fifth. The top ten is rounded off by BT, Unilever, Rentokil, Pearson and Lloyd’s Banking Group.

More broadly, the index reveals that 87% of the FTSE 100 firms to have reported on their modern slavery efforts in 2019 before 7 April had demonstrated year-on-year improvement.

The highest year-on-year improvement was made by online supermarket Ocado, which was given an overall percentage score of 73% for 2019, up from 47% in 2018. Building materials giant CRH  and plumbing and heating product distributor Ferguson also recorded strong improvements, boosting their overall scores by 26% and 22% respectively against 2018 levels.

Nonetheless, Development International emphasised the fact that the average overall score is still just 48%, indicating that wider progress on eliminating modern slavery is not being made fast enough. Moreover, three of the companies listed – NMC Health, Ashtead Group and the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust – received scores of 0% after failing to publish modern slavery statements.

The index was produced in collaboration with BRE, which developed the Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard (ELS) BES 6002 – a framework helping corporates to measure and mitigate human rights risks as part of their wider social and ethical governance.

The organisation’s BREEAM director Shamie Ghurma said: “The 2019 FTSE 100 Index reveals how the nation’s largest listed companies are beginning to raise their reported performance level year-on-year.

“Whilst on an individual company basis that’s to be welcomed, the marginal average improvement of just over 1% of those captured in the 2019 and 2018 benchmarks demonstrates a seismic shift in corporate culture is still to happen. There needs to be a rapid acceleration if we are to reverse the numbers of men, women and children who are caught in modern slavery in the UK and internationally.”

Supply chain challenges

The Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people across 167 countries are working in conditions defined as modern slavery. Of these people, the UK Government believes that around 13,000 are living in Britain and the number of people identified as slaves nationwide continues to increase each year.

The UK Government has claimed that modern slavery costs the national economy around £4.3bn annually, with external reports noting that UK imports more than £13.7bn of “at-risk” goods, likely to have been produced through forced labour annually.

In response to the issue, policymakers have, historically, been at the forefront of implementing legislation aimed at combatting modern slavery. The MSA was introduced in 2015 – the first of its kind in Europe and second globally to the California Transparency in Supply Chain Acts of 2010.

However, neither act mandates that companies must prove that they have stopped modern slavery in their supply chains. Instead, firms have to provide information on what steps they have taken, including published modern slavery statements.

As the Government consults on whether it should evolve the MSA, some sectors with high-risk factors have moved beyond compliance with the act to address the risk of modern slavery across supply chains. In the technology and communications industry, the Unseen App was launched in partnership with BT to enable users to report concerns in confidence of potential cases of modern slavery, for example.

And in the hospitality sector, a coalition of firms with a collective annual turnover of more than £14bn has convened through the Shiva Foundation to improve mitigation practices across the industry.

As for fashion, which is believed to be the second-highest modern slavery risk sector after technology – a coalition of large retailers recently committed to work with law enforcement bodies to help identify and act on cases of modern slavery in the textiles industry. Orchestrated by the UK Government’s Modern Slavery Taskforce, the commitment has united John Lewis, M&S, New Look, Next, River Island and Shop Direct.

Sarah George

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