38 per cent: is it a big number?

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Anyone who listens to the Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’ (presented by FT journalist Tim Harford) will know they have some key questions when it comes to interrogating the numbers in the headlines we ready every day. One of my favourites is ‘Is it a big number?” which is something I ask of the supply chain headlines every day.

Take a recent study conducted by law firm Weightmans. It found that 38 per cent of senior UK supply chain professionals say they do not have processes in place to check if a supplier has been convicted of modern slavery infringements.

This sounds worrying. Surely there should be processes in place to check for any unlawful infringements conducted by suppliers, let alone this key piece of legislation. A supplier that cannot manage risk? Alarm bells should ring.

But is a big number or not? I’m assuming that the finding should be zero per cent and everyone in the supply chain should have processes in place to check if a supplier has been convicted of modern slavery infringements.

Has it risen in the four years since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act? Or has it fallen? I couldn’t tell you.

Thankfully, Matt Williamson, partner at Weightmans, can offer us a little context: “Modern slavery is an issue that affects millions of people around the world and ensuring complex supply chains are free from the issue is clearly a huge challenge. Yet, it is something that businesses must continue to make significant efforts to get to grips with, not only on moral grounds but also in order to avoid significant potential business risks.

“While cases of businesses being prosecuted have, so far, been rare, the consequences of being associated with modern slavery are likely to be significant in terms of reputational or contractual costs. Our research shows many businesses are exposing themselves to unnecessary risk and suggests the government needs to do more to help businesses monitor the issue.”

Weightmans will be writing a piece for LM in the future to shed some more light on the research.

The findings of that particular survey wasn’t the only big number that left my scratching my (admitted rather bushy and in need of a trim) beard this week.

A British Property Federation’s ‘What Warehousing Where?’ report states that, at a national level, 69 sq ft of additional warehouse space will be needed per home in order to fulfil deliveries generated by the growth in online retail.

Frankly my house looks like an Amazon depot right now. Everything arrives in cardboard boxes, from new window shutters to a lightbulb for the kitchen. If 69 sp ft of warehousing space per household is supposed to sound like a big number, then it sounds pretty small by our standards!

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