Government asks retailers to lead the way on transparent supply chains

January 01, 1970

Recommendations on the steps that industry can take to help eradicate human rights abuses in their supply chains are to be produced by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), Business Minister Jenny Willott announced today (25 June 2014). The move follows the recent publication of a Modern Slavery Bill (see our earlier blog post for more info on the Modern Slavery Bill) by Home Secretary Theresa May. The Bill is the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address modern slavery and trafficking. It will give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to target today’s slave drivers, ensure perpetrators are severely punished and improve support and protection for victims.

The BRC will work with its members and produce a document later this year (2014) highlighting good practice after a request from the minister. The publication will look to help companies address abuses such as forced labour and dangerous working conditions in their suppliers abroad.

They will also include a framework of human rights reporting requirements, information on ethical auditing and the various accreditation schemes available.

Stamping out modern slavery

Earlier this month (June 2014) the Home Office hosted a round-table meeting with business leaders to discuss how the government can work with companies to eliminate forced labour and exploitation from their supply chains. This important engagement with business is one element of the government’s comprehensive programme to stamp out modern slavery.

Under UK legislation, listed companies are already required to report on human rights where necessary for an understanding of the business. This requirement was introduced for accounts ending after 30 September 2013, so the first reports under these provisions are now being published. The reporting of human rights will be further strengthened by new reporting rules expected to be introduced in 2016.

The responsibilities of government and business are set out in the UK’s Business and Human Rights Action Plan which was published last year (September 2013).

For individual businesses, the UN Global Compact provides a framework for action on human rights, including workers in supplier companies. The UK Network is a forum for participation and knowledge exchange across all sectors. Members include leading retailers and suppliers such as Littlewoods, Burberry, Unilever, Diageo, Nestlé and Vestey Foods.

Business Minister, Jenny Willott, said:

"Transparency should always be at the heart of every business. All companies, including those in the retail sector, need to make sure that they are giving the right information to their customers and are being open about their supply chains.

Shoppers more than ever want to know how what they buy got from the factory to the shelf. They are also not afraid to speak up or vote with their feet if they think that those producing their goods are being abused or exploited. It is great to see that the BRC are going to produce this information. I hope we will see progress as a result, with more businesses being open with customers and managing their suppliers in an ethical way."

Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime, Karen Bradley, said:

"Modern slavery is an appalling crime that has no place in today’s society. All of us, including businesses, have to play our part if we are to stamp it out.

Companies have a social responsibility to ensure that those that they do business with are not involved in the exploitation of others. The government is talking to a range of business leaders about how we can eliminate forced labour and exploitation from their supply chains. I commend the BRC for taking a stand against this evil and raising awareness amongst its members."

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the BRC, said:

I’m delighted that the Minister has asked the BRC to share the retail industry’s good practice on human rights with the wider business community. In order to achieve meaningful change in this area, businesses of all sizes, throughout the supply chain, need to understand the issues, be able to identify and then address worker abuse and exploitation. I hope that by sharing the experiences of responsible British retailers, we can help all those wanting to begin their journey of improving human rights through their supply chains.

Over the coming months, we will be working with our members to sign-post industry standards and initiatives and draw together examples of good practice."

Further information can be found in the GOV.UK press release.

End notes

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