Developments in Alleviating Slavery in Supply Chains Around the World


SEATTLE — An estimated 45.8 million people are plagued by some form of modern slavery among 191 source and 193 destination countries — both developing and developed. Unfortunately, slavery in supply chains is becoming one of the most widespread forms of modern slavery.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 on decent work and economic growth espouses that there must be immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor and end modern slavery and human trafficking. Yet, with more industrialization, globalization and economic growth, the poor are made increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.

Moreover, slavery in supply chains is ubiquitous in sectors like garment-making, agriculture, hospitality, seafood and construction. Women, children and migrant workers often fall victim to slavery of this nature. It was recently revealed that logging camps and industries in Brazil use a lot of slave labor in their workforces.

Producers are being bogged down with proliferating demand from consumers, coupled with the need to maximize productivity and output to maintain revenue. Slavery in supply chains often goes unnoticed as a result.

Transparency and accountability issues have greatly attributed to this over the years. Given the sheer scale of production, it is often difficult to thoroughly oversee supply chains all the time given the spread of factories, and a number of individuals and stakeholders. Also, sourcing of raw materials from developing countries often transcends into developed countries.

To combat these problems, companies like Adidas are now ensuring that their supply chains are smaller. The company is now maintaining fewer than 110 primary factories for 80 percent of its products.

The British Standards Institutions (BSI) maintains the Trafficking and Supply Chain Slavery Patterns Index, a measure used to oversee and evaluate global supply chains, industries and countries. The BSI measure is especially effective as it enables organizations and businesses to avoid the potential risks of modern slavery and trafficking. Additionally, the index is distinct because it works on the principle of cross-referencing source countries where there are many displaced individuals and evaluating the possibility of exploitation in destination countries.

It is very common for industries to outsource a lot of their work. Many of the channels are not monitored or overseen. Regulating such sources is also a very effective way to minimize the threat of slavery in supply chains at present.

In addition to this, working conditions should also be improved in order to overcome slavery in supply chains and improve the BSI index figures. Many big brands in the fashion industry are falling short in this particular regard. The initial stages of primary production are often where supply chain slavery is most prevalent. Conditions in cotton fields, spinning mills and garment factories are often very poor. Recently, the U.K.-based Co-operative Group established an ethical trading program to help prevent slavery in its food supply chains and improve labor standards.

Effective legislation is by governments is also proving equally successful. Consequently, the U.K. Anti-Slavery Law is dealing with slavery in the supply chains of destination countries.

Similarly, the new Corporate Vigilance Law in France is also playing a pivotal role in transcending awareness and meting out justice against offenders. Brazil conducts some of the most celebrated initiatives to rescue its 161,000 modern slaves currently impacted by slavery in supply chains. Brazil blacklists companies and implements strong labor laws.

Emulating these examples and building more comprehensive laws will go a long way for destination countries. To conclude, it is essential for businesses, NGOs and governments to work collaboratively to alleviate the threat of slavery in supply chains. It is essential to galvanize existing laws and work on current institutional frameworks so that slavery in supply chains can be eliminated in the near future.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr


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