Supply chain slavery: more action is needed

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One in ten UK supply chain managers say they have found evidence of modern slavery in their supply chains since the Modern Slavery Act came into force, a survey by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply has revealed.

Malory Davies, Editor.

Malory Davies, Editor.

That is a significant increase on the six per cent that reported finding such evidence before the act.

It’s a depressing statistic: the only positive is that it suggests that the act is having some effect in highlighting the problem.

The CIPS figures also coincide with recent figures from the National Crime Agency which revealed that there were far more modern slavery victims in the UK than previously thought, with 300 live modern slavery police operations currently in progress in the UK alone.

The CIPS survey of 1,288 supply chain professionals found that 34 per cent of organisations required by law to complete a statement in compliance with the Modern Slavery Act have failed to do so. Not only that, 37 per cent of supply chains managers subject to the Act’s remit admitted to not even having read the government guidance on Modern Slavery.

It’s worth remembering that it’s now 245 years since Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, ruled that slavery was illegal in England and Wales, and it’s 184 years since the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire.

Perhaps the temptation is to think that, after all those years, the problem has disappeared. What is clear from the CIPS survey is that the lack of engagement with the modern slavery statement has resulted in a large proportion of businesses having few or no policies in place to tackle the issue. Only 42 per cent of organisations have mapped their supply chains to understand their risks better.

And only six per cent of supply chain managers under the act’s remit are certain that there is no slavery in their supply chains.

The survey reveals a strong desire for more effective action. More than two thirds of those surveyed believe that the act should cover companies with turnovers of less than £36 million (the current lower limit). And more than half believe that there should be fines for companies failing to comply with the act, if real change is to be achieved.

It’s hard to disagree. The existing act has put a spotlight on the issue, but more action is needed.

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