Hidden Slavery Within Brand Retailer Supply Chains

  • Written by Laura Wheatley
  • Published on 15th November 2018
  • CategoryBlog

Slavery in the modern world is a topic on the lips of all major retailers.

Before joining Segura, I was unaware of the magnitude of slavery that still exists in the world today. As a solutions company that specialises in global supply chain mapping, Segura allows brand retailers to identify manufacturers who undertake unethical trading practices.

Segura recently ran a Modern Slavery Act Seminar, which was undeniably a huge success. The seminar provided viable solutions to the dilemmas faced by major retailers since the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 – including what to cover in their MSA statement. Unchosen’s Melissa Blackburn kicked off the event with a series of short videos about the different forms of modern slavery and how to identify these situations. The topics of the MSA statement, what to include and why it was necessary, were covered by Ron Reid (Shoosmiths) and Chris McCann (Resilient.World). These presentations covered the importance of dealing with slavery, and the damage that failing to do so could have on brand reputation. It then came down to Segura CEO Peter Needle to divulge the audience with how becoming Segura compliant can allow retailers to tackle this world-wide issue.

This seminar opened my eyes to the prevailing issue of slavery in the modern world, and I thought it would be valuable to share some of the key points from the day.


What does the modern slavery act mean for retailers?

With the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act came a demand to address this widespread issue. By early 2017, all major retailers (with an annual turnover above £36 million) will be compelled to issue a statement outlining their plan of action to eradicate modern slavery. Slavery, which covers situations where people are controlled, forced to work and have their movements restricted (source: antislavery.org), has been identified as a major issue, with between 21 and 36 million slaves worldwide (source: Ron Reid, Shoosmiths LLP).

With this Act comes an enormous amount of pressure for brand retailers to produce a statement which is sufficiently ambitious, yet realistic. The Act outlines that all brand websites must contain a link to the company’s Modern Slavery Act statement, and this must be in a prominent place. With this being so public, the failure to produce a satisfactory statement could be an act of brand suicide, and public scrutiny is only expected to increase.  

In order to ensure that a business’s procedure for dealing with the identification and removal of modern slavery from their supply chain is satisfactory, a number of topics must be considered. For example, a retailer may now be more selective when choosing which countries to pick suppliers from – suppliers from countries with limited human rights protections are likely to carry a higher risk of being involved in slavery due to a lack of monitoring. Also, existing contracts with suppliers may need to be reviewed to establish that sufficient legal protections are in place. If an existing supplier is not willing to agree to a contract containing stricter policies against modern slavery, then a retailer may want to consider that as an indicator that they should begin to scrutinise the ethical standards of such a company.

The solution

When it comes to modern slavery, no-one is suggesting that retailers are knowingly carrying out unethical business practices. The problem lies within the lack of visibility in the supply chain. Retailers are often aware of the suppliers in their first (and sometimes even second) tier of supply chain, but are generally unfamiliar with any suppliers beyond this point. This lack of visibility can result in the retailer being unaware of unethical practices that are ongoing in the manufacturing of goods .

“The problem with Modern Slavery is that it is often hidden in plain sight” (source: Kevin Hyland, UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner). Gaining clarity within supply chains would tackle the problem of lack of visibility which can lead to unethical business practices. Identification could lead to remediation, helping to eradicate modern slavery.

Segura offers retailers software which provides them with a visible supply chain, allowing maximum transparency through the manufacturing process as a whole. With this comes increased control and supervision over supplier practice, through the ability to appoint preferential suppliers. Through the use of Segura’s software, retailers can oversee the production of each and every component in their supply chain, ensuring that only trusted manufacturers have been used to create the final product.

Originally Published 25/08/2016