UK agrees new principles to combat supply chain modern slavery

The UK Government has spearheaded a collaborative new set of principles aimed at helping nations tackle modern slavery in global supply chains, which is believed to impact more than 45 million people.

The UK has developed four new principles for tackling modern slavery, in partnership with the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Announced at the UN General Assembly this week, the principles focus on mobilising private sector and legislative actors to prevent and address cases of human trafficking in supply chains.

Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins, said: “Denying people their freedom and fundamental human rights through modern slavery is a global tragedy. We as governments, businesses and citizens must do all we can to stop it.

“The UK and our partners are going further, showing leadership and setting out these new principles designed to drive out slavery from the supply chains of the goods and services we all use.”

The Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people across 167 countries are working in conditions defined as modern slavery. The UK Government estimated that around 13,000 people in Britain are living in modern slavery today.

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.

The nations involved in the new set of principles believe that up to $600bn of purchasing power can be leveraged by governments and business to prevent forced labour across both sectors.

The principles call on governments to develop and implement measurement systems and risk assessment policies that highlight the risk of human rights abuses in procurement supply chains, before “adopting appropriate due diligence processes” to mitigate and remedy. The principles also note that governments should work with businesses to set expectations on conduct and due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate cases of human trafficking.

Governments have also been tasked with introducing policies that incentivise responsible practice for supply chain workers, while protecting them from fraud and exploitation in the recruitment process. Finally, governments should share information to align existing and proposed laws and regulations to combat modern slavery across global supply chains.

Modern Slavery Act

The UK has been at the forefront of policy-led approaches to combatting modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2015 – the first of its kind in Europe and second globally to the California Transparency in Supply Chain Acts of 2010.

Neither acts mandate 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.

There is some debate as to whether governments should introduce more enforcement on the matter. In July 2018, the UK Government commissioned an independent review of the act to see whether it could be evolved.

Some sectors have moved beyond compliance with the act to address the risk of modern slavery across supply chains. The Unseen App was launched in partnership with BT to enable users to report concerns in confidence of potential cases of modern slavery.

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.

Matt Mace

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