‘Building on the Modern Slavery Bill: Going Beyond Transparency’

We are pleased to announce the launch of our report, ‘Building on the Modern Slavery Bill: Going Beyond Transparency.’ 

The report can be downloaded by clicking on the following link: Supply Without Chains ‘Building on the MSB’.

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In June 2014, the UK Modern Slavery Bill began its passage through Parliament. Part 6 of the Bill, ‘Transparency in supply chains’, introduces a requirement for companies above a certain size to report on their efforts made, if any, to remove forced labour practices from their supply chains. This means that a company can simply report that they are making no such efforts, and still be compliant with the law.

The report seeks to build on Part 6 of the Bill by making recommendations for further action beyond the legislative requirements.  The recommendations we make are the key issues that have arisen throughout our research as the most important and feasible ways of ensuring that companies’ transparency statements are as effective as possible.

This provision in Part 6 adopts the model set out in the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act 2010. We have spoken to US based organisations who have worked closely on the implementation and execution of the California Act in order to learn crucial lessons on what has been a success and what could have been done differently.  This has enabled us to critically evaluate the best ways to supplement the UK transparency provision so that it has a real world impact on eradicating forced labour and slavery in supply chains.

In our report, we propose mechanisms in four areas to reinforce Part 6:

  • Section 1 addresses the issue of enforcement and regulation of company practice. We suggest campaigning directed at increasing the remit and funding of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner in order for him to have the role of monitoring and enforcing companies’ best practice, and the expansion of the role of the GLA to other at risk sectors;
  • Section 2 addresses the problem of the complexity of supply chains. In order to make a comprehensive and accurate transparency statement, companies need to know the labour practices occurring at all stages of their supply chains. We will propose a focus on the quality of independent auditing, training programmes and effective regulation to ensure that companies can make sufficiently detailed statements;
  • Section 3 suggests the use of websites and social media to support the transparency statements. We will suggest a two-pronged approach to media platforms, developed by private voluntary initiatives. The first focuses on business engagement, and the second takes a consumer targeted approach;
  • Section 4 makes suggestions of minimum criteria for the Governmental Guidance that is to be published to supplement Part 6.

The report is targeted at those developing ways of supplementing the legislation and ensuring it is of maximum impact. Our aim is to support a coordinated effort involving civil society organisations, consumers and Parliament itself.

We welcome any comments you may have on the report. Do not hesitate to contact us at supplywithoutchains@gmail.com for further queries or comments.

‘Building on the Modern Slavery Bill: Going Beyond Transparency’

Rana Plaza: Was transparency the cause?

When the Rana Plaza factory building collapsed in the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka in 2013, more than 1,130 garment workers were killed, crushed under eight stories of concrete. More than 2,500 people were rescued from the building alive, but some suffered terrible injuries.

One of the major problems with the ‘landmark’ transparency provision of the Modern Slavery Bill can be highlighted by the Rana Plaza disaster. Paul Lister, the Director of Legal Services and Company Secretary of Primark, stated that an ethical audit of ‘New Wave Bottoms’, a subsidiary of Primark, had been carried out by Primark’s team of ethical auditors.[1] If this is the case, why was such an outrageous disaster allowed to happen?

Paul Lister admits, ‘We had seen all the certificates that said that the building was legitimately erected and legitimately operating, which shows that, frankly, even in relation to that we need to do our own work. That is the lesson that we have learned.’[2] As Polly Foley, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Business Ethics suggests, even where auditing does occur, it can be insufficient and tends to ‘miss the areas of the labour supply chain that pose the most risk’.[3] This accentuates the very problem with a transparency provision, particularly one, unlike the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, that ‘will not specify what a business must include in that disclosure or what action it must take’.[4]

This is why Supply Without Chains sees the need to look further than transparency at what can be done to make a genuine, ongoing difference.

[1] Evidence from Paul Lister, Joint Committee on Draft Modern Slavery Bill Oral evidence: Draft Modern Slavery Bill, HC [1181], Tuesday 11 March 2014

[2] Ibid at Q1177

[3] Polly Foley, ‘Modern Slavery and the role of business’, Ethical Corporation (8 October 2014) 1 Can be accessed at <http://www.ethicalcorp.com/supply-chains/modern-slavery-and-role-business> accessed 21st December 2014

[4] Home Office, Modern Slavery Bill: Impact Assessment, October 2014, page 8

Rana Plaza: Was transparency the cause?

Panorama: Apple’s Broken Promises

BBC’s Panorama recently went undercover to discover ‘the reality of life on the iPhone production line’, secretly filming inside Apple’s production factories in China.

They found that many of Apple’s published standards were not being met. For example, Apple state that workers must retain all their ID documents. In practice, most workers’ documents are taken from them when they begin work, and despite the company’s public response to the problem no real change has taken place on the ground. Apple also have accommodation rules stating that there should be no more than 8 people staying in each room. Panorama’s undercover reports found rooms of 12 people, with barely enough space to get through the door.

The production factories create ‘fake audit trails’, giving the appearance of fair and regulated practice. In reality, the workers operate under a ‘culture of intimidation’, working 12-16 hour shifts and falling asleep whilst operating machinery. Payslips present overtime as bonuses to cover up the number of hours actually being worked.

Further down the supply chain, illegal mines are mining tin that ends up in Apple products, with workers as young as 12 putting their lives at risk. Deaths caused by landslides are not uncommon, but the workers must weigh this risk up against being able to provide food for their families.

The investigation shows the difficulty of tracking the complex supply chains. The BBC found the link between the illegal tin mines and the legal suppliers to Apple within a few days. If they can do this, why can’t Apple?

Apple claim to be the most transparent company in the world. That may be so, but given the scale of the problem, transparency is clearly not enough to protect workers in supply chains from forced labour and slavery. 

You can watch the episode here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04vs348/panorama-apples-broken-promises

Panorama: Apple’s Broken Promises

Welcome to our blog!

We are Supply Without Chains, a human rights initiative set up at the University of Warwick. We are focused on tackling modern slavery in supply chains, scrutinising the Modern Slavery Bill as it passes through the UK Parliament. The Bill in its current form requires that businesses report on measures they are taking to ensure transparency in their supply chains. We aim to report on this transparency requirement, showing how we must go even further than this in order to effectuate real change and tackle the abhorrent crime that is modern slavery.

We will be posting articles on modern slavery and updates about the Bill as it reaches its final stages prior to enactment, and keeping you updated as we develop our report.

Welcome to our blog!