Modern slavery

Does (your business) have appropriate policies and practices to prevent modern slavery?

Question collaborator: Anti-Slavery International

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Modern slavery is a widespread, complex global crime taking a number of different forms. It encompasses child slavery, bonded labour, forced and compulsory labour, descent-based slavery, early and forced marriage, and human trafficking. The 2014 Global Slavery Index estimates there are 35.8 million people living in some form of modern slavery globally.” For the purpose of this question, the term “modern slavery” is used as an overarching term to describe one or more of these practices.

Since 14.2 million of those working under conditions of forced labour are in the private economy – primarily in agriculture, construction, domestic work, manufacturing, mining and utilities – it has become increasingly clear from both government and civil society perspectives that business must play an integral role in the fight against this global crime. The Modern Slavery Act was passed into Law in order to tackle modern slavery in the UK, thereby making ‘commercial organisations’ with a turnover of more than £36 million legally accountable.

The protection of human rights is embodied in international laws and several conventions that are binding on nation states where countries have ratified international conventions, these requirements will be reflected in most national laws. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) “apply to all States and to all business enterprises, both transnational and others, regardless of their size, sector, location, ownership and structure.” These principles establish that all businesses have an explicit role in the realisation of human rights through a responsibility to respect them, to take steps to avoid infringing on the rights of others, and to address any adverse human impact as a result of their corporate activity. The UNGPs are built on the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework and apply to all human rights issues. Notably, it challenges businesses to identify, prevent, and end human trafficking and to ensure that no forced, bonded or child labour is engaged in the production or sourcing either of its own organisation or across its supply chain.

Abuse of labour is not an issue limited to developing countries and human trafficking is the fastest growing crime around the world today. Due to the hidden and illegal nature of human trafficking and forced labour, gathering statistics is difficult and the problem may be underestimated. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide and conservative 2012 research estimated trafficking victims as comprising some 44 per cent of this figure. Given the nature of modern slavery, it is very difficult to conduct any accurate calculations. However, based on the 2012 global estimate of human trafficking, the ILO has calculated that illicit profits from the use of forced labour in the private economy amount to US$150 billion.

Forced labour, often as a form of human trafficking, occurs in every country, including the United Kingdom. In 2013, the UK National Referral Mechanism (NRM) received 1746 referrals of potential victims of trafficking. In 2014, the figure had risen by 34% to 2340, of which 131 were UK nationals. This indicates that trafficking occurs within national borders as well as across them. Forced labour occurs primarily in industries that depend on casual and temporary labour, offer low wages and predominantly use subcontractors, making it hard to track along the supply chain. Such abuses are most likely to be found in agriculture (along with related businesses, such as food processing and packing), construction, the services sector (restaurants, hotels, domestic work and care homes) and the sex trade. As well as causing damage to the individual, the criminal activity generally associated with forced and bonded labour may also have negative effects on wider society. Governments also face a loss of tax revenue.

All businesses, whatever the service provided or trade offered, product sold or money invested, are potentially at risk of being affected by modern slavery in their organisations or supply chain, with consequent potential legal, operational, financial and reputational damages.
Forced labour is likely to be most prevalent where sourcing or other processes occur in countries with inadequate regulation or weak enforcement.

  • High-risk industries include those which involve raw materials and employ methods which are arduous and hazardous.
  • Industries which rely upon a low-skilled and temporary workforce with fluctuating seasonal work also carry a higher risk of exploitations, as do those which rely on migrant workers.
  • Industries which are based on competitive pricing are vulnerable to forced labour as pressure on costs down the chain increases chances that forced labour will be used to minimise costs.

The risk of having forced labour in the supply chain will vary subject to the complexity, sector and locations of supply chains involved.

Some forced or bonded workers may be trafficked children. Children may also take on work ‘voluntarily’ as a means of survival, a phenomenon that the UNGPs aim to end. However, many children work within their family or their community as a way of imparting knowledge and skills they will need in adult life, such as subsistence farming or craft work. As pointed out by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other child and labour advocacy groups, the question of acceptable or unacceptable work done by those under 18 years old is a complicated one that is dependent on numerous factors, including the child's age, type of work and conditions they work in. A blanket ban on ‘child labour’ would be unfortunate if it affected children safely engaged in useful work that contributes to their family.

Besides the UNGPs, there are other guidelines promoting best practices for businesses in how they respect the rights of children. A prominent example is “Children's Rights and Business Principles” published in 2012 by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children. The ILO also promotes tools and guidance to identify and combat forced and bonded labour.

However, there is still considerable controversy over the best approach to ensuring that modern slavery is not part of the supply chain. Many businesses and NGO practitioners doubt the value of ‘ethical auditing’ of supply chains, which has a poor track record in identifying cases or promoting change. As an alternative, risk analysis to identify the parts of supply chains most likely to engage in modern slavery and human rights investigations of those supply chains to identify any wrongdoings and potential remediation measures are advocated. This often involves promoting freedom of association, credible complaints procedures, and working with local civil society and government to bring about systemic change.

Modern slavery is a widespread, complex global crime taking a number of different forms. It encompasses child slavery, bonded labour, forced and compulsory labour, descent-based slavery, early and forced marriage, and human trafficking [explained below]. For the purpose of this question, the term “modern slavery” is used as an overarching term to describe one or more of these practices.

The various types of modern slavery include one or more aspects set out in this glossary section:

Bonded Labour

'Bonded labour' is the most widespread form of slavery in the world. A person becomes a bonded labourer when their labour is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan.

Child Slavery

According to the 1956 UN Supplementary Slavery Convention, “any institution or practice whereby a child or young person under the age of 18 years, is delivered by either both of his natural parents or by his guardian to another person, whether for reward or not, with a view to the exploitation of the child or young person or of his labour” comes under the definition of 'child slavery'.
Children who come under this category include those who are:-

  • used by others who profit from them;
  • in forced labour (in agriculture, factories, construction, etc.);
  • forced to take part in armed conflict;
  • child domestic workers and those engaged in “hazardous work”;
  • child trafficking and child marriage
Child Work

'Child work': Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child's development. Work can help children learn and develop particular skills that will benefit them and the rest of society. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, parents are not prohibited from expecting their children to help out at home in ways that are safe and appropriate at their age. If children help out in a family farm or business, the tasks they do be safe and suited to their level of development and comply with national labour laws. Children's work should not jeopardize any of their other rights, including the right to education, or the right to relaxation and play.

Child Labour

'Child Labour': According to the ILO, however, there are over 200 million child labourers around the world. Child labour is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education, development and future livelihoods. For example, children who are working below the legal minimum age for employment.

Early and Forced Marriage

'Early and forced marriage': Child marriage can be said to be slavery if the child:

  • has not given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage;
  • is subjected to control a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself (through abuse, threats, exploitation to undertake domestic chores within or outside the marital home and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations);
  • cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery.
Forced Labour

'Forced labour'’ is defined by the ILO Convention No. 29 as all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily. The individual may be paid little or no wages for the work. Another example is an employer holding the identity papers or travel documents of workers so they are unable to leave their employment. The ILO indicators of forced labour are: Abuse of vulnerability; Deception; Restriction of movement; Isolation; Physical and sexual violence; Intimidation and threats; Retention of ID documents; Withholding of wages; Debt bondage; Abusive working/living conditions; Excessive overtime.

Descent-based Slavery

'Descent-based slavery': This describes a situation where people are born into a slave class, caste or group viewed as being in slavery by other members of their society. Even though slavery is prohibited by international law, descent-based slavery can be so culturally ingrained in societies (e.g., Niger, Mauritiana, India, etc.) that challenging its existence can be very difficult.

Human Trafficking

The UN defines ‘Trafficking in persons’ as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Forced labour and human trafficking can occur in business operations in a variety of ways:

  • Directly – by employing a trafficked or exploited person within the business or through a subcontractor or recruitment agency;
  • Indirectly – through illegal subcontracting occurring within supply chain or through use of products or materials which have been produced by people under conditions of forced labour;
  • By association – where trafficking occurs within the local area as the result of a company’s operations, or as a secondary consequence of a company’s actions.

Anti-Slavery International points to several characteristics that distinguish ‘slavery’ from other human rights violations. Someone is in slavery if they are treated in one of the following ways:

  • If they are forced to work, through mental or physical threat;
  • If they are owned or controlled by an ‘employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse;
  • If they are dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as property;
  • If they are physically constrained or have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.

Answering YES

All Businesses MUST

Describe their business sector and number of employees

Describe their organisational structure, their business and their supply chains

Describe any policies they may have which relate to slavery and human trafficking

Describe any due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in business and supply chains

Describe any parts of the business or its supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps they have taken to assess and manage that risk

Explain whether they have been effective in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in the business or in its supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as are considered appropriate

Describe any training about slavery and human trafficking which is available to staff

All Businesses MAY

Have this policy signed and endorsed by the director, partner, or a designated member

State where this policy is published on their website and provide a hyperlink, if available

Describe any other good practice they implement, such as setting out directives/guidelines for employees to follow should any form of human trafficking be discovered in the supply chain

State whether they are members or supporters of any organisations seeking to improve labour standards or work against trafficking

State how far down their supply chains they investigate and describe how that depth of scrutiny is determined

Explain what they would do in the event of uncovering human rights abuses in the supply chain

Explain if and how they go beyond minimum legal compliance to ensure best practices

Explain whether they engage with governments on issues that contribute to modern slavery and seek to positively influence the political agenda

Large and Multinational Corporations (MNCs) MUST

State how frequently their practices and policies are reviewed

If they operate internationally, state if their policies against human trafficking differ from one country to another

Explain any differences if they exist

Answering NO

All Businesses MUST

Explain why they do not or cannot answer YES to this question, listing the business reasons and other reasons that apply

Explain what actions they have taken to identify and eliminate the risks of forced labour, slavery, human trafficking, and child labour within their supply chains, in the absence of such policies

All Businesses MAY

Explain the extent to which they do follow any of the practices detailed above

Mention any future intentions regarding this issue

DON'T KNOW is not a permissible answer to this question

NOT APPLICABLE is not a permissible answer to this question

Version 3

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

Prevention of forced labour, slavery, and human trafficking are strategic business issues

e.g. commitments to detecting and avoiding human rights abuses form part of corporate strategy
e.g. adopts a comprehensive reporting framework and encourage a pro-active approach to disclosure
e.g. lobbies government, law-makers and/or regulators to promote better human rights policies and practices
e.g. organisation possibly established to ensure good labour conditions
e.g. statement of philosophy or values with regard to modern slavery
e.g. has clear policies and practices and explains how they are being implemented across the organisation
e.g. membership of UN Global Compact and/or other relevant bodies
e.g. developed a framework under the UNGPs
e.g. full involvement of staff and/or other stakeholders
e.g. actions taken to prevent forced etc. labour measured and monitored
e.g. audit implemented down the supply chain
e.g. build strong supplier relationships and communicate policies throughout supply chains
e.g. due diligence when awarding contracts or entering partnerships
e.g. developing innovative ways to work with supply chain
e.g. strong track record in practical ways of protecting labour
e.g. cited as an exemplar in its sector
e.g. developed grievance mechanisms which are fully understood by workers, particularly migrant workers, for instance an integrated multi-lingual migrant hotline platform.
e.g. training provided to managers and staff on identifying forced labour and human trafficking in practice and seeking necessary assistance
e.g. align business strategy, KPIs and operational model to minimise the risk of modern slavery
e.g. evidence of progress being made through collaborative initiatives with various stakeholders is clearly and regularly reported
e.g. business explains how and why it scrutinises to a specified depth down its supply chain
e.g. business explains what it would do in the event of uncovering human rights abuses in the supply
e.g. business explains if and how it goes beyond minimum legal compliance to ensure best practices
e.g. business investment in best practice has resulted in innovation which other businesses may adopt
e.g. business explains how it factors legal and fair labour costs into production and sourcing costs in order to mitigate against the demand for cheaper, slave or bonded labour in the supply chain

To receive a score of 'Good'

The business has established clear practices to prevent forced labour, slavery, and human trafficking

e.g. selective reporting of few but not all aspects of their supply chain
e.g. statement of philosophy or values with regard to human rights
e.g. clear policies and practices easily implemented across the organisation
e.g. ensures that labour recruitment practices comply with efforts to eliminate practices that lead to forced labour, human trafficking, etc e.g. staff and other stakeholders engaged
e.g. undertaken audit (or similar) in supply chain or for contractors
e.g. actions to reduce risk of labour abuse measured and monitored
e.g. has a demonstrably good track record in practical ways of protecting labour
e.g. collaboration with various stakeholders to deal with modern slavery in a holistic way
e.g. business explains how and why it scrutinises to a specified depth down its supply chain
e.g. business explains what it would do in the event of uncovering human rights abuses in the supply
e.g. business explains if and how it goes beyond minimum legal compliance to ensure best practices

To receive a score of 'Okay'

The business has ad hoc policies or procedures for dealing with forced labour, slavery, and human trafficking, OR has made a statement that forced labour, slavery, and human trafficking are not issues for its business sector

e.g. reliance on inadequate policies and processes in reporting – little disclosure or evaluation of human rights risks in their supply chains
e.g. explains why not an issue in the particular business sector
e.g. statement of commitment to preventing human rights abuse in its supply chain but evidence only of intermittent practices
e.g. explains why not monitored or measured consistently
e.g. may piggy-back on published audits by other respected companies for overseas supply chain
e.g. may use recognised certifications

To receive a score of 'Poor'

No evidence of any practices to prevent human trafficking

e.g. the business acknowledges performance below expectations
e.g. statement of future intent to improve
e.g. no action apparent