June 12th was World Day against Child Labour and was marked with a lively panel discussion on Guardian Sustainable Business. The discussion and subsequent commentary highlight both how difficult it can be to eradicate the worse forms of child labour – and that knee-jerk reactions to exit supply chains with these types of risks is not the most productive response. Companies are now encouraged to use their influence in communities to persuade suppliers to provide decent jobs for parents and caretakers and to ensure schooling for children at risk.
This week is a good time, then, to introduce the Eradication of Slavery (UK Companies Supply Chains) Bill. If it becomes law, it would require large companies operating in the UK to report annually on slavery, human trafficking and exploitation in their supply chains, and on what steps they are taking to address this.
Modeled on similar legislation from California (see blog post here), the law would apply to retailers and manufacturers with global turnovers exceeding £100m and require them to:
* Report on the steps they are taking to evaluate and address the risk of slavery in their supply chains.
* Declare whether or not they are auditing suppliers.
* Insure their suppliers certify that all materials used in their products meet the national legal requirements regarding slavery, human trafficking and exploitation.
* Provide training on the issues for those responsible for suppliers
* Ensure that procedures were in place for dealing with suppliers who do not comply.
The burden is not fundamentally a regulatory one; it is a responsibility to report. However, the proposed bill goes one important step further than reporting. If companies uncover slavery or trafficking in their supply chains, they will be required to help the victims and to include this in their reports.
In the past 25 years, the existence of modern forms of slavery has grown. From child labourers on west African cocoa farms to Chinese prisoners being exported to the Maldives to build infrastructure projects, slavery is thriving around the world. As consumers, we enjoy the cheap products that forced labor has helped to deliver .
The Transparency in Supply Chains Law in California and now this proposed bill in the UK aim to ensure that consumers know when forced labour has been used to make a product that they buy. Armed with that knowledge, they might well choose an alternative.
The proposed bill was presented to Parliament on May 16th, 2012.