Last week The Guardian published the results of a six month investigation into slave labour and human trafficking in the supply chain of major food retailers. The London based newspaper uncovered evidence that slaves, forced to work for no pay and under a constant threat of violence, were being used in Asia to assist in the production of prawns that end up on the shelves of British supermarkets.
The investigation alleges that Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods buys fish feed from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats that are using slave labour. Some of the accusations made by the newspaper are horrific, with slaves being bought and sold, made to work 20 hour shifts, beaten and even executed. All of this seems a far cry from a ready meal or a prawn cocktail starter sold on the shelves of British supermarkets.
Such is the complexity and challenges of maintaining a global supply chain in the global economy. Globalisation has driven all year round supply of goods that typically would historically only be available seasonally. Supermarkets have a complex global supply chain. Its suppliers also need to source goods from somewhere. The obvious question is: where does responsibility lie?
One of the supermarkets accused of selling prawns that are connected to slave labour is Tesco, the largest supermarket in the UK. On its website Tesco outlined its policies and practices for trading responsibly. This includes the following:
“In February we published a report which outlined the changes that we have been making to our trading relationships in the UK and internationally, such as simplifying our meat supply chains, establishing direct relationships with banana growers and collaborating to improve conditions across the garment industry.”
The company also claims to have carried out more than 2,600 supplier audits in 2013/14. It is therefore surprising that the company’s name has been associated with this story. In response, Tesco issues a statement:
“We regard slavery as completely unacceptable. We are working with CP Foods to ensure the supply chain is slavery-free, and are also working in partnership with the International Labour Organisation and Ethical Trading Initiative to achieve broader change across the Thai fishing industry.”
That bad things go on in the world is not a surprise. The challenge for brands in the 21st Century is to ensure that their practices and policies not only stand up to scrutiny but deliver on their own promises. For a brand like Tesco, with such a strong responsible trading position, to be involved in a story like this demonstrates how difficult it is to manage an ethical global supply chain. During the next few weeks, we will be providing some tips on how best to manage this process.
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