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What really matters when developing your strategy to tackling modern slavery



By Jessica Creswell - The 2nd Global Modern Slavery and Supply Chain Summit on 14 November is focused on moving beyond the statement and towards strategy. Over 20 speakers from 16 industries will share insights and lessons learnt, giving businesses an opportunity to find out what others are doing to tackle modern slavery and how to incorporate practical action with a tangible impact in their supply chain. 
 
A strategy will differ for each business quite considerably, however, there are key themes which any business should consider and adopt. Ahead of the event, I discussed some of the themes underpinning any successful modern slavery strategy with some of the speakers.  
 
A function risk assessment and handling framework 
 
A risk assessment gives a strategy direction. However, too often risk assessments have been treated as a quick tick-in the box exercise – they are completed, put in the drawer and forgotten. Supply chains are extremely complex and evolve over time, so your risk assessment approach should do the same. 
 
Monique Lempers at Fairphone pointed out that “electronic devices exist of more than 1000s parts so it is impossible to do full tracking and tracing of all materials. To build on the businesses original risk assessment, Fairphone prioritised a further eight materials which we are focusing on to further track and make an impact.”
 
A typical risk assessment will point your business in the right direction, however that is only the start. You should be building on that work, drilling down into the issues where it has impact, which will ensure that your strategy remains relevant. 
 
Working on the ground where the issues are 
 
We can all write statements but we know that alone will not fix the problem. Indeed, successful strategies with a tangible impact prioritise working on the ground, where the issues are. Lempers added that “this approach helps us understand the interconnectedness of an issue rather than taking a single issue and treating it in isolation”. Doing the later can result in businesses missing underlying issues, and with that, indirect impacts of any changes made. 
 
This approach is echoed by Chris Harrop at Marshalls, a firm advocate of working on the ground and addressing the key issues. His advice to businesses is to use the resources and knowledge available to them, such as working with NGOs in the local area, which have been a valuable resource to the business. However, as your understanding develops you may find that you will need to partner with different NGOs or experts in the field – do not expect to stay put. 
 
Don’t beaver away on your own – build a network to achieve success
 
You cannot fix the issue of modern slavery on your own. Furthermore, if there is an issue in your supply chain then it is highly likely the same issue is occurring in other supply chains. As such, the key to success is to work with your industry to share knowledge and build approaches to tackle the issue of modern slavery. 
 
Paul Gerald at the Co-op, in a previous interview with Ethical Performance, advises businesses to “always try to develop collaborative solutions, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel each time. Once you have developed a solution, share it, allowing suppliers to learn from it and save some of the pain. Modern slavery is about organised criminality and very vulnerable people. This is a complex mix, and in reality, no one, individual or organisation, has the answer, but together we might.”
 
An approach to managing when a case is found 
 
So far, many businesses’ approach to addressing modern slavery stops at the point where an issue is found and the contract with an employer is terminated. Although it sends the message that the business does not support modern slavery, it does not help vulnerable people who are being exploited, which is the bottom line.
 
To have a functioning strategy on addressing the risk of modern slavery it is important to include an approach to removing people from their vulnerable situation. The Co-op set up a programme to do just that this year. Gerald explains: “Project Bright Future is a programme where we provide a pathway to paid employment for victims of modern slavery. So far, we have already had four victims complete the programme and three of those, I am hugely proud to say, are now my colleagues in the Co-op. Our ambition is to put at least another 30 people through the programme by the end of the year.” 
 
In my conversations with the speakers, two things become particularly apparent. Firstly, the companies they represent are working towards a clear common goal: to tackle the issue of modern slavery where it matters and where they can have an impact. This means deepening their understanding, working on the ground, working with their industry and developing an approach that will help remove people from a vulnerable position. Secondly, all strategies vary dramatically. Although the strategies share key themes, each business has developed their own approach that is appropriate to their business and their industry. 
 
With more businesses and more practical insights at the event on 14 November, I’m looking forward to hearing about what other businesses are doing to tackle modern slavery in their supply chain. 


Global | modern slavery

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