By Sean Kahn

1. Slavery still exists

Many assume that slavery no longer exists following its abolishment in the 19th century. However, slavery still exists today and is arguably more prevalent today than at any other time in human history.

2. Slavery has evolved to include more pervasive and complex forms of exploitation

Whilst historical slavery was legal and involved direct ownership, modern slavery has evolved to include more pervasive and complex forms of exploitation in which people cannot refuse or leave work due to threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power. It includes crimes such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, domestic servitude, child labour, and human trafficking.

3. More than 40 million people around the world are victims

Estimates from the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicate that that more than 40 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, of which about 25 million are subject to forced labour. This is larger than the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from the 15th to 19th century.

4. It’s not just an issue for developing countries

The issue of modern slavery is not just an issue for developing countries. Evidence suggests that modern slavery can be found in every country, with certain sectors of even developed economies remaining particularly vulnerable.

5. Countless products will have at some point in their supply chain been touched by slave labour

Global supply chains, coupled with our increasing desire for low-cost products and services, means that countless products purchased around the world are at risk of having at some point in their supply chain been touched by slave labour. For example, consider the multitude of suppliers and materials that go into any given product and the prominent role that the Asia Pacific region plays in global production and trade – a region which also happens to have the highest number of people enslaved.

6. Large public and private sector organisations have the power to dictate and influence working conditions for millions of people across the world

Large public and private sector organizations have enormous purchasing power and a large amount of resources at their disposal. Collectively they spend trillions of dollars each year on various products, goods and services. Any decisions they make on price and the suppliers they select has cascading impacts throughout the supply chain. They have the power to dictate and influence working conditions for millions of people across the world.

7. Governments around the world have begun taking steps to combat modern slavery by putting more onus on business

Governments around the world have begun taking steps to combat modern slavery by putting more onus on business. Most notable is the UK Modern Slavery Act 2015. The Act requires businesses operating in the UK, with an annual turnover of £36 million or more, to prepare an annual statement (signed by the board) explaining what steps the organisation has taken to ensure that there is no slavery in any part of its business, including its supply chains. Other examples of steps taken by government include the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act of 2010, the French Devoir de vigilance, the proposed Hong Kong Modern Slavery Bill and the soon to be released Australian Modern Slavery Act. These developments represent preliminary steps in the increasing global trend towards supply chain transparency and increased human rights and modern slavery reporting.

8. Companies all over the world will be impacted

As more and more large public and private sector organisations are required to report on steps taken to ensure that there is no slavery in their supply chains, and as supply chain visibility increases, more and more companies across the world will find themselves being held to account through various mechanisms such as supplier contracts, assessments, audits, questionnaires, and more robust supplier codes of conduct.

9. Eradicating modern slavery is not just a moral obligation, it’s a business imperative
Customers, employees, and civil society are becoming increasingly aware of human rights issues and are placing higher expectations on the role of business. Plus, investors and capital markets are increasingly factoring in environmental, social and governance (ESG) into investment decision making processes. Companies exposed as having slavery with their business or supply chain may face serious consequences including significant reputational damage, hefty litigation fees, and loss of consumer confidence and market share. One report estimates that consumer boycotts against companies linked to slavery has cost those implicated £2.6bn a year[1].

10. Companies within the property and construction industry need to start taking preventive measures now
The property and construction industry has been identified as a key sector of concern for the presence of modern slavery within the supply chain. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) it is estimated that the construction industry accounts for 18 percent of all modern slavery cases in the private sector. In addition, a 2015 research report by the European Union ranked construction as number two on the list of economic sectors in the EU most prone to labour exploitation.

Stay tuned for our next blog on modern slavery in the property and construction industry……

For more information on sustainable procurement, please contact Cundall at http://www.cundall.com/Services/Sustainability/Sustainable-strategy-and-governance.aspx

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/aug/29/big-business-modern-slavery

Image Credit ©Dmitry Ratushny

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Sean Kahn, Sustainable strategy and governance

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