Innovation Forum London: How Business Can Tackle Modern Slavery and Forced Labor

Created on Monday, 09 April 2018

By Cora Sorenson

The billboards outside the heavily touristed Westminster Abbey in London let me know that modern slavery is on Britain’s mind.

These posters communicated the degradations of forced labor and human trafficking in a variety of sectors that intersect with our everyday lives. Clearly the British government is seeking to put this subject on the public radar. I also learned that the topic of modern slavery is on the minds of some of the UK’s largest companies.

As a Human Rights Project Manager at FishWise, I had the opportunity to attend Innovation Forum’s two-day event “How Business can Tackle Modern Slavery and Forced Labor” this March 7-8th. The event brought together stakeholders from a variety of sectors to discuss the challenges and solutions for addressing the risk of forced labor and modern slavery in supply chains. Companies such as Tesco, Marks and Spencer, H&M, and Unilever shared their efforts to combat these risks, while voices such as the International Labour Organization and the Ethical Trading Initiative highlighted continued vulnerabilities for workers. Topics receiving particular attention included ethical recruitment, worker voice mechanisms, and the limitations of audits to accurately capture working conditions.

While the issue of modern slavery has received increasing attention over the past several years, many challenges remain. Although there are examples of private sector leaders in social responsibility, many companies are unclear about how to approach and address these issues.

Some guidance from presenters included:

What can companies do to mitigate human rights risks in their supply chains? 

  • – Review policies and procedures and benchmark against international standards
  • – Cascade company policies from the top down supply chains
  • – Conduct a risk mapping exercise for suppliers across tiers
  • – Conduct trainings to ensure that all staff are aware of the impacts of human rights violations
  • – Provide suppliers with incentives to implement company social responsibility policies
  • – Identify the root causes modern slavery risks in company supply chains
  • – Engage workers with tools to report directly on their labor conditions, and empower workers by supporting freedom of association

In the midst of these conversations, one presenter’s aspiration remains with me: When we arrive at the point that human rights violations make a product “defective” we will know we have succeeded. In British fashion, I say “cheers” to that.