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You’ve found instances of modern slavery, now what?

According to Fuzz Kitto (Co-Director, Stop the Traffik), the only way we can stop modern slavery is together. It is not possible for companies to solve modern slavery on their own. Knowledge and information sharing, collaborating through partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the UN Global Compact, are effective ways that companies can effect change. By combining resources and sharing expertise, collaborations can help reduce instances of modern slavery within an industry, product or sector.

It makes sense in practice as well. If a company identifies practices captured under the modern slavery umbrella in a specific factory, farm or other facility, one company acting alone may not have enough leverage over a supplier to change their practices that allow modern slavery to occur. If multiple organisations who purchase from the same supplier can work together and build leverage, there is a far greater likelihood that positive change can occur for the victims.

Gaining transparency over supply chains and operations is only the first step in tackling modern slavery. The reality is that when organisations commit to looking deep into their operations and supply chains, modern slavery risks and instances will inevitably be detected. There is no silver bullet or one set of answers for how companies can respond to modern slavery, but there are a number of practical ideas for companies on how to approach their responsibility to act on instances of modern slavery and assist with the remediation of victims.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that when a company causes or contributes to a negative human rights impact, companies have a responsibility to prevent the action causing the harm, use leverage to mitigate any harm and remediate those people who have been impacted. 

Companies need to adopt a victim-centred approach to tackling modern slavery. Although it is daunting to find human rights abuses in your supply chain, responding with a knee-jerk reaction to remove offending suppliers may be the simplest solution to eradicate risks but it does nothing to help the victims. In taking a victim-based approach, organisations must look beyond their own interests and risk minimisation and engage with suppliers to eradicate and remediate modern slavery where it has been found. Fuzz Kitto highlighted that working with high risk supply channels can be an incredible opportunity to make a difference to the lives of those trapped in slavery cycles. 

Supplier engagement and capacity building is an effective and meaningful approach to tackling modern slavery once it has been detected. Training suppliers and building awareness of health and safety, human rights and product quality enables the development of new skills and increased knowledge that can reduce the risk of modern slavery. Building long-term relationships and creating trust with suppliers is crucial. for organisations looking to respond to modern slavery in their supply chains and operations. 

Having systems, processes and plans in place before an instance of modern slavery is identified will enable companies to engage in a rapid and more effective response. Having robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks in place will allow companies to understand what works and which areas need to be improved. To reiterate from the previous blog in the series, the emphasis in the Modern Slavery Act is on continuous improvement.

It is critical that companies act to assist victims both psychologically and physically, and alleviate their vulnerabilities so they don’t end up in a similar situation later down the track.

If a company discovers that modern slavery is happening somewhere in their operations or along the supply chain, it is crucial that immediate remedial action is taken. Businesses are not expected to be experts in this area, so it is important that organisations have a remediation strategy that includes a referral list for putting victims in touch with appropriate support avenues. This mean that businesses must be aware of and can ask for assistance from local stakeholders including community groups, local authorities, unions and NGOs such as Stop The Traffik.

Robyn Ormerod (IOM) highlighted that preventing modern slavery from happening to begin with is another equally important measure. The IOM recognises this and has been working with Adidas through its Corporate Responsibility in Eliminating Slavery and Trafficking (CREST) initiative in Vietnam to prevent modern slavery by increasing access to ethical recruitment channels for migrant workers. Exploitation often begins with migrants in their home countries experiencing recruitment fees and debt bondage before they enter a particular supply chain. By partnering with the IOM, Adidas receives guidance on how to identify and remediate modern slavery within their operations and use these learnings to inform preventative measures to eliminate unethical recruitment and exploitation of migrants. Indeed, Fuzz Kitto noted that prevention is the cheapest method in every way as opposed to remediating once you have found modern slavery.

Setting the tone from the top and creating internal buy-in from senior executives is crucial to ensure that organisations have the budget and resources to tackle modern slavery once it has been identified.

Bring the issue home. Make sure that your organisation throughout all levels understands the human element of what this all means. It is important to integrate the ‘why’ into all initiatives and disclosures. Taking your employees along the journey enables a broader reach to more stakeholders and will assist in creating value. This could involve an event or external training with a partner NGO or even sending employees on an overseas immersion into a community which has experienced modern slavery to gain a unique, first-hand understanding of the context and the challenges of remediation. Nicole D’Souza explained that Konica Minolta formed a partnership with Project Futures and now sends employees on an immersion trip to Cambodia to experience issues of human trafficking and modern slavery on the ground.