Across the globe, millions of people are forced to work against their will in factories, on construction sites and on farms or fishing boats. Many of these people – and the goods they produce with their labour – are part of vast and complex global supply chains. While globalisation has brought benefits for companies and consumers through higher profits, lower prices and more choice, in our hotspot programs we see first-hand how it has also created the conditions for abuses to flourish far from the eyes of those enjoying these benefits.
Increased attention on modern slavery risks – including through the introduction of legal regulatory frameworks such as the UK Modern Slavery Act – has pushed it up the corporate agenda, with many businesses taking positive steps to address harm in their supply chains. However, this has not yet translated into a concrete shift in business practices, with many corporations failing in their responsibility to act.
Our Supply Chains Initiative seeks to tackle modern slavery by targeting three key levers of reform throughout the supply chain ecosystem: government, business and workers. In doing so, we aim to create incentives for corporations to drive-up anti-slavery standards within their supply chains, facilitate and enable access to remedy for those affected, and ensure that workers are empowered to claim their rights for themselves.
The Freedom Fund has actively supported the introduction and implementation of supply chain transparency legislation. For example, we provide core support to the Modern Slavery Registry, an open-access portal that tracks company policies and responses to the UK Modern Slavery Act.
Beyond the establishment and enforcement of disclosure requirements, we aim to support initiatives that seek to strengthen current regulations through incentivising corporate action and sanctioning illicit behaviour. This includes developing alternative regulatory mechanisms such as imposing mandatory human rights due diligence or exploring procurement or trade incentives.
Corporations have an important role to play in preventing modern slavery by addressing the business practices that lie at the root of forced labour in supply chains. Whilst in our hotspot programs we are engaging with corporations in specific sectors, including through participation in multi-stakeholder groups, in this initiative our focus is on driving up standards by strengthening the incentives for them to act – by increasing the financial and reputational costs of inaction.
Furthermore, we aim to support programs that engage investors and financial institutions to use their leverage to reform business practices that may contribute to slavery. This includes a research project led by RUSI focusing on how financial institutions can drive up anti-slavery standards through responsible lending and financing.
Across our hotspots, we support ‘bottom-up’ approaches that are engaging at the lower tiers of the supply chain to strengthen collective agency and workers’ voices. The third pillar of our supply chains initiative aims to amplify these locally-driven approaches on a global scale by sharing learnings from the frontlines. Simultaneously, we seek to directly support innovative worker-driven efforts and initiatives that place the protection of workers’ rights and access to justice at the core of solutions to address slavery in supply chains.