Eradicating modern slavery from supply chains

24 July 2018 By Melissa Bell, Sustainable Procurement Manager

Modern slavery image

Procurement needs to step up and play its part in eradicating modern slavery from supply chains.

Whenever I sit down to do any research on social value or sustainability I always end up back to the issue of modern slavery and after almost 5 months into the job I’m still so shocked and saddened that in 2018 there is such an issue. 

In the world it is estimated that over 40 million people are in some form of slavery or forced labour. Recent figures from The Global Slavery Index estimate that on any given day in 2016 there were 136,000 people living in modern slavery in the UK. These figures are staggering, and these are the ones who are being noticed. There is no typical victim of slavery and victims come from all backgrounds. Men, women and children regardless of nationalities are at risk of becoming victims.

Modern Slavery is everywhere. Unseen UK have recently published their report “Modern Slavery in Car Washes” where their Modern Slavery Helpline over the past 21 months has reported 360 cases of modern slavery at car washes with 2,170 potential victims identified. As a user of my local hand car wash I’ve never really thought that the person who is washing my car (because I don’t want to spend time doing it myself) could be a victim of modern slavery. Obviously, they might not be, but would I recognise the signs if they were? And I am fully aware of prevalence of modern slavery whereas many people aren’t. 

An article from the CEO of Unseen, Andrew Wallis, got me thinking about prices. Andrew ended his article by saying “we must open our eyes to the true cost of things - if that cost is not paid by us, it will be paid by others with their health, rights and freedom”. In procurement, especially as a public sector buying organisation, we are often tasked with achieving value for money. But what does that mean? Does lowest price mean “value” and at what cost? There are times, when supply chains are mature but potentially inefficient, that getting the lowest price is absolutely the best way to demonstrate obtaining value for money. But then there are the other cases, where best value is not about driving prices down by £2, but what value or impact the supply chain is adding to society. While the financial costs will always play a massive factor in public sector procurement we also need to consider the social impact of the goods, services or works we are procuring. 

Procurement needs to step up and play its part in eradicating modern slavery from supply chains. Achieving this will obviously be tough, but it can be done through careful due diligence of the full supply chain, especially in high risk markets. So, as I sit down to review our own modern slavery statement in the coming weeks I want to challenge ourselves that every step is being taken to ensure that modern slavery in all its forms is not within our supply chain. 

I believe that William Wilberforce would be turning in his grave that 200 years after the abolishment of slavery this is still happening. And as I have said before (and will continue to champion) – the power of procurement can help change the world! 
Categories: Procurement

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