Respecting the rights of workers in supply chains is a key concern for our members and their customers. UK retailers have led the world in preventing labour abuses by investing in effective inspections and working with local workers’ representatives. They recognise, however, that they cannot solve the problems alone which is why, as well as partnering with other companies in the supply chain, they have led the campaign to improve enforcement of rights both here and around the world.
Working with experts in our member companies we identified that stronger government intervention was needed.
In 2013, the UK Government debated introducing new powers to tackle human trafficking and slavery, but initially no requirements were imposed on businesses to take action.
In response, we and our members campaigned with leading expert organisations such as the Ethical Trade Initiative to persuade the UK Government to introduce a new requirement for all businesses to take action to tackle modern slavery.
As a result of these and other efforts, the Government included a Transparency in Supply Chains clause to what is now the Modern Slavery Act, the first of its kind in Europe.
The result is that all businesses above a certain size operating in the UK have to publish on their websites the steps they are taking to tackle modern slavery in their operations and supply chains.
This is a significant step towards improving business transparency, helping the public to scrutinise businesses, and businesses to assess their suppliers.
For the Act to be truly effective we are calling on the Government to publish a list of all businesses who are required to publish their actions on tackling modern slavery so that pressure can be applied to those who need to do more.
We believe that retailer efforts to tackle modern slavery must be supported by tough laws, effective enforcement by authorities and close collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society in order to uncover exploitative practices, protect the victims and punish the perpetrators.
As well as actively engaging the UK Government we have raised concerns with the Thai Government about the treatment of workers in its fishing industry, and will continue to use our influence globally to push for positive change.
Working with our members we will continue our industry-leading work to help them identify and implement improvements to supply chain labour practices, and work with key stakeholders to tackle the biggest challenges, thereby ensuring consumers can continue to trust that retailers are acting responsibly.