Modern Slavery depicts multiple forms of forceful labour exploitation that affect millions of individuals globally, generally at the crossroads of compromising safety and freedom in the context of labour. Such practices are difficult to identify given their existence in the ‘informal economy.’
Tackling Modern Slavery by organisations demands an understanding of its context and complications. Recent studies interviewed several senior executives from more than forty global businesses. The central question was how they would react when discovering Force Labour and other forms of Slavery within their network and suppliers.
The responses differed significantly:
· To get away from it.
· It would come out in the audit.
· The need to see the suppliers on the ground.
· Use the quality system to self-identify mistakes.
· Moving the work as fast as humanly possible.
· Shutting down the product line and reporting them to whatever relevant authority.
· They would stop using that supplier right away.
How deep must you go into this?
Many managers do not know what they would do if they discovered Slavery in their SCs. Leaders tend to create more ‘abstract’ visions of things such as Slavery whilst subordinate people directing the in-place check-ups will have a much ‘concrete’ view of what is occurring in workplaces. It brings a concept called Psychological Distance (PD).
Most executives who are 'distant from the reality of the situation have ‘significant PD.’ It intensifies when persons, objects, ideas or events correspond to more abstract approaches, and decision-making depends on more abstraction.
· Abuse of vulnerability – Being dependent on an employer for work and housing due to limited language proficiency, religion, ethnic group, or disability.
· Deception – False promises (wages, working conditions, housing, working hours and more.)
· Restriction of movement, so no freedom to enter and exit.
· Isolation – Working in remote locations, not knowing the exact location or having no contact with the outside world.
· Employers or co-workers perpetrate the physical or sexual violence experienced in the workplace or outside.
· Intimidations – Threads, denunciations to the Migration authorities, conditional wages.
· The retentions of identity documents, such as a passport refusing further access to it.
· The holding of wages or delayed payments.
· Debt bondage, meaning payment deductions, as health emergencies or transport, prevents workers from seeking other jobs until debt payment.
· Working or living conditions that are degrading as dangerous, dirty or overcrowded workplaces.
· Excessive overtime, breaching limits under national law and linked to threats of dismissal or paying minimum wage, on-call at all hours, not prescribed rest days.
How is the SC implicated?
While corporations increasingly try to find how to manage Modern Slavery risk in their SCs, their understanding of what it is and what should it be tackled continues to be limited. The critical problem with firms is that it is a psychologically vague concept for them. Whilst SCs turn out to be more global, the influence of PD among companies and buyers of large brands and their suppliers working in low-wage countries has escalated.
Many organisations describe Slavery as a risk; they trust the government and not public databases and AI means, typically depending on visible data such as media events or audits, mostly entirely outdated. Similarly, when turning on third-party audits or supplier self-reporting results, such opinions are vulnerable to deceitful auditing, bribery, or dishonesty by suppliers.
Most SC managers interviewed were in the initial stages of thoroughly comprehending what it is about, therefore, deficient recognition of Modern Slavery complications. Many questioned whether their suppliers could be implicated in exploitation or mask it. Workers would keep subtle manipulations in their communities, still recognised that the established procedures for coping with supply risk were unsuitable for Modern Slavery risk. Several leaders depend on codes of conduct inserted in supplier’s contracts as the base for their conviction that this alone would be enough to hold back any non-compliant labour activities from happening.
A minor group of organisations were building a new line of attack that depends on different forms of commitment, encompassing the specific circumstances and corresponding strategies adjusted to the region in which the work occurs. These managers realise that exploitation is often rooted in communities and is part of the employer-employee relationship. This unique combination of supplier and worker demands:
· A personalised approach.
· Practising audits for seeking indirect information and targeting specific areas.
· Working with governments, trade, or buying groups.
· Improving suppliers’ understanding of their expectations.
· Investing in communities, local education systems or support systems for workers.
· Observing the factors that promote and entrench abuses, rather than simply recounting on cases.
Adding up: organisations have been reluctant to address risks that severe labour exploitation might exist in their SC by dismissing it as something that occurs ‘elsewhere’ or as an inconceivable practice among their suppliers.
Equally, severe labour exploitation is identified in major transnational SCs such as forced labour and recent incidents involving SCs garment sources. Those enterprises that are compelled first to recognise it will also get the solution for dealing with it.
Does your company recognise the probability of Modern Slavery in its Supply Chains?
Subscribe to our emails & exclusive free content.