As stated by Jane Blacklock, responsible sourcing manager at FatFace Ltd, the question is not are there slaves in your supply but rather where are the slaves in your supply chain. This realistic was echoed by many of the speakers at Ardea International’s Modern Slavery awareness event, held in Brighton in mid-March, as they revealed their business-strategies and policies to deal with the growing issue.
First to speak, Jane Blacklock, explained that for large clothing retailers the primary area of vulnerability in their supply chains are the overseas manufacturing sites. Blacklock explained that to assess the individual factories’ standards, FatFace uses a system of audits and focused follow up. The audit reports assess factories and the issues raised result in a grade – either green, amber or red. If a factory is graded as red then it is prioritised for follow up and the company will work with the factory management to solve the issues at hand. Blacklock revealed that this system of assessment and through being prepared to provide the resources and time needed to help the flagged factories improve their standards, 70% of all factories used by FatFace are graded green or amber.
This insight into how clothes retailers are aware of and deal with modern slavery in their supply chains was supported by Lorna Bramwell and Richard Bentley from Single Resource, a leading temporary work recruitment company in the UK. They explained that the company had a clear focus on preventing exploitation by working with consultancy organisations and the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) as well as provide training to all their employees in operations roles in how to spot and deal with suspected cases of slavery. This training and strategy meant that, from November last year, Single Resource has had only 17 identified cases of slavery.
Paul Armstrong, Investigating Officer with the GLAA, gave us an insight into the how the government is trying to combat the modern slavery since the passing of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015. Armstrong explained that the biggest role of the GLAA is to work in partnership with labour providers and users to prevent and remove cases of slavery in the UK. However, it appeared that, due to the small size of the governmental department, having only 40 investigators across the country, the GLAA struggles to keep up with demand and is highly aware that to properly tackle the issue of modern slavery it needs a substantial increase in funding from the government.
The final speaker of the evening was Ardea International’s own Emily Foale who has recently finished and published a report on compliance within the jewellery sector with regards to the Modern Slavery Act. Foale explained that Ardea International had investigated eight leading jewellers in the UK, including Signet Group, Cartier and Tiffany and Co. The report revealed that 50% of the companies researched had not published their slavery statement, something that the Modern Slavery Act made compulsory for companies with a net worth of £36 million or over. This shows that without the government being committed to putting more time and resources into enforcing the new legislation on modern slavery there is very little incentive for companies, whose consumers are not demanding it, to be committed to eradicating cases of slavery in their supply chains. Foale’s full report is called “All that Glitter is Not Gold: Shining a Light on Supply Chain Disclosure in the Jewellery Sector” and is accessible via Ardeainternational.com.
Overall, throughout the event it became clear that to really prevent and eradicate modern slavery in supply chains there must be a conscious and committed effort to providing training, time and resources to the issue, as has been shown through the examples of FatFace and Single Resource. Although the passing of the Modern Slavery Act was a significant step in the right direction, the government must invest in departments and organisations like the GLAA that could and should have the resources to follow up with companies and industries, like the jewellery industry, who are not complying with the legislation.
So, where to next? Now that the responsibility for the identification and eradication of slavery in supply chains lies with each business, it seems that many are trying to deal with this universal issue individually. Here at Ardea International we think that an establishment of a community of UK businesses committed to cooperation is the best and most efficient way to eradicate slaves from your supply chain.