Profit Through Ethics on Modern slavery

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

Question collaborator: Anti-Slavery International


Profit Through Ethics Ltd is for all intents and purposes a small start-up business. One that is office based, internet-centric, and where very few physical resources are sourced.

We mainly provide services online. We occasionally also do so in person and over the phone. We believe we do not operate in a sector where modern slavery is a significant risk and we do not yet have any policy designed to prevent modern slavery. However, in the absence of such policy, we do think that it is important to minimise risks of modern slavery in our organisation and would like to better understand which actions we might take to do so.

We work in a managed office space which provides us with all our basic necessities. Whenever we do have to source goods and services, we make a conscious effort to source them according the company’s Code of Practice which recommends that, when it comes to groceries and stationery, employees determine the ethical and locally-sourced options.

Beyond our own supply chain, we work with businesses, NGOs and other experts to encourage greater transparency in business. Modern slavery is one of the problems we are aiming to help alleviate by promoting and enabling business transparency on the issue and by disseminating better and best practices.

At the moment, the team has six members, both full time and part time. We ensure that our hiring practices do not violate any labour laws, and we will stay informed about and abide by any future changes to the law.

Our 15-day internship programme used to be on an unpaid voluntary basis. Now all interns are paid the London Living Wage. Although we do not have a formal grievance mechanism, we promote an open and friendly working environment where employees are encouraged to communicate any concerns and opinions they have regarding their rights and responsibilities. This is clearly articulated in our company's Code of Practice and is understood by all employees.

If the company were to expand internationally in the future, local labour laws and adequate wages would be honoured.

Answered at 11:52AM on 07 Sunday May 2017

Modern Slavery is a widespread, complex global human rights abuse 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 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates there are 45.8 million people living in some form of modern slavery globally. It is worth noting that estimates are difficult, given slavery’s often hidden nature, and definitions do vary. However, all researchers and NGOs agree that slavery remains a grave human rights abuse. For the purpose of this question, the term “modern slavery” is used as an overarching term to describe one or more of these practices.

According to the ILO’s most recent figures, 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, by making them publish an annual statement on slavery in their own organisation and their supply chains.

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. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime around the world today. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide and conservative research from 2012 estimated trafficking victims as comprising some 44% of this figure. Given the nature of modern slavery, it is very difficult to conduct any accurate calculations. However, based on the 2014 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$150.3 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. This number increased to 3805 cases in 2016. Estimates of numbers of trafficking victims in the UK had ranged from 10,000 to 13,000, but this has been revealed to be only the tip of the iceberg. 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 value 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 value chain, with consequent potential legal, operational, financial and reputational damages. However, there are identifiable risk factors:

  • 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
  • Competitive pricing models can increase the chances of forced labour as pressure is passed down the chain to reduce costs
  • The risk of having forced labour in the value chain will vary subject to the complexity, sector and locations of value 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 gaining 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 value chain. Many businesses and NGO practitioners doubt the value of ‘ethical auditing’ of value chains, which has a poor track record in identifying cases or promoting change. Instead a combination of strategies is advocated: risk analysis to identify the parts of value chains most likely to engage in modern slavery; human rights investigations of those value chains to identify any wrongdoings; and potential remediation. 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. 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, 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. Not all work done by children (defined as human beings below the age of 18) should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. “Child labour” is a much narrower concept than “child work” and refers to children working in contravention of ILO standards contained in Conventions 138 and 182 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means all children below 12 years of age working in any economic activities, those aged between 12 and 14 engaged in work that is more than just light work, and all children engaged in the worst forms of child labour (children being enslaved, forcibly recruited for armed conflict, prostituted, trafficked, forced into illegal activities or hazardous work (work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children)).

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 some sections of 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.”

Value Chain

The ‘value chain’ of a company is the set of activities that are performed in order to deliver a product or service to the market. It consists of:

  • The ‘supply chain’, including raw materials produced by primary industries, non-material resources and the operations performed on them by intermediaries up until supplies are purchased by the company
  • The value delivered by the company itself through its product manufacturing, service development or other activities
  • The ‘demand chain’, through which the company’s products or services reach their market through to final disposal, including the distribution and sales to customers by intermediaries.
The Kafala System

The Kafala system is (meaning ‘sponsorship’ system) is a system used to monitor all migrant labourers working in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and most in Jordan and Lebanon. The system gives sponsors a set of legal abilities to control workers: without the employer’s permission, workers cannot change jobs, quit jobs, or leave the country. If a worker leaves a job without permission, the employer has the power to cancel his or her residence visa, automatically turning the worker into an illegal resident in the country. Workers whose employers cancel their residency visas often have to leave the country through deportation proceedings, and many have to spend time behind bars.

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 value 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 value 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 value chains, measured against such performance indicators as are considered appropriate

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

Identify how your business model may create pressure points that could facilitate or promote modern slavery, and what steps have been taken to minimise them

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 value 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 value 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 value 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

Describe how you mitigate risk based on your operating model

Identify key areas of concern or uncertainty relating to modern slavery

Describe how Modern Slavery policies and practices fare when the business faces challenges

Outline the KPIs and conditions relating to human rights and modern slavery in your supplier contract

Explain how you identify high risk customers and clients, and outline which circumstances would lead you to not do business with another organisation, relating to slavery

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

List any practices that are relevant, but not sufficient to answer YES

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 2

To receive a score of 'Excellent'

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

Examples of policy and practice which may support the EXCELLENT statement:

  1. Adopt a comprehensive reporting framework and encourage a pro-active approach to disclosure
  2. Organisation possibly established to ensure good labour conditions
  3. Statement of philosophy or values with regard to modern slavery
  4. Has clear policies and practices and explains how they are being implemented across the organisation
  5. Membership of UN Global Compact and/or other relevant bodies
  6. Developed a framework under the UNGPs
  7. Full involvement of staff and/or other stakeholders
  8. Actions taken to prevent forced etc. labour measured and monitored
  9. Audit implemented down the supply chain
  10. Build strong supplier relationships and communicate policies throughout supply chains
  11. Due diligence when awarding contracts or entering partnerships
  12. Developing innovative ways to work with supply chain
  13. Strong track record in practical ways of protecting labour
  14. Cited as an exemplar in its sector
  15. Developed grievance mechanisms which are fully understood by workers, particularly migrant workers, for instance an integrated multi-lingual migrant hotline platform.
  16. Training provided to managers and staff on identifying forced labour and human trafficking in practice and seeking necessary assistance
  17. Align business strategy, KPIs and operational model to minimise the risk of modern slavery
  18. Evidence of progress being made through collaborative initiatives with various stakeholders is clearly and regularly reported
To receive a score of 'Good'

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

Examples of policy and practice which may support the GOOD statement:

  1. Selective reporting of few but not all aspects of their supply chain
  2. Statement of philosophy or values with regard to human rights
  3. Clear policies and practices easily implemented across the organisation
  4. 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
  5. Undertaken audit (or similar) in supply chain or for contractors
  6. Actions to reduce risk of labour abuse measured and monitored
  7. Has a demonstrably good track record in practical ways of protecting labour
  8. Collaboration with various stakeholders to deal with modern slavery in a holistic way
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

Examples of policy and practice which may support the OKAY statement:

  1. Reliance on inadequate policies and processes in reporting – little disclosure or evaluation of human rights risks in their supply chains
  2. Explains why not an issue in the particular business sector
  3. Statement of commitment to preventing human rights abuse in its supply chain but evidence only of intermittent practices
  4. Explains why not monitored or measured consistently
  5. May piggy-back on published audits by other respected companies for overseas supply chain
  6. May use recognised certifications
To receive a score of 'Poor'

No evidence of any practices to prevent forced labour, slavery, and human trafficking

Examples of policy and practice which may support the POOR statement:

  1. Lack of information of modern slavery as a potential risk
  2. The business acknowledges performance below expectations
  3. Statement of future intent to improve
  4. No action apparent

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