It’s estimated by non-governmental organisations that nearly 46 million people are enslaved around the world in 2017. The majority of them are found in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, although no country is immune from the problem and there may be several thousand people in this position in the UK.
To owners and managers of British businesses, this may seem like a remote problem, but the nature of the global economy means this isn’t the case.
The first issue, of course, is your supply chain. While no one involved in your business in the UK may be a victim of slavery, can you prove that the same clean bill of health can be applied to your suppliers overseas or their suppliers? And then there’s the question of human trafficking. If you make use of UK suppliers or agencies who recruit people from abroad, are you certain of their status?
These questions are not just academic. Under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, it’s now a legal requirement to disclose the policies you have in place to abolish human slavery from your supply chain if your turnover exceeds £36m a year. If you fail to issue a statement on the steps you’ve taken within a financial year, you not only risk a fine, but also reputational damage.
One important way in which you can demonstrate your commitment to tackling the issue of slavery is through having a proper whistleblowing policy in place.
We tend to think of whistleblowers as people who highlight fraud, bribery or health and safety breaches within a business. It is entirely possible, however, to encourage people to come forward if they find any evidence of slavery at some point in a complex supply chain.
It’s an approach which requires a clear policy and a proper training programme. You will also want to involve a third party to act as the nominated point of contact for anyone who has a concern. In some cases, you may wish to consider seeking an independent and external whistleblowing service provider who specialise in dealing with such concerns.
While there are certain market sectors – fashion retail and agriculture, for example – which have a high profile in the media for problems with slavery and trafficking, it’s important that all businesses address the issues. Slavery is a phenomenon which many people mistakenly feel is located in our past. Sadly, it’s very much a part of our present.
If you would like further information about implementation of an independent external whistleblowing service to enhance your fight against modern slavery please follow this link or alternatively please contact Sean McAuley, the SeeHearSpeakUp Senior Fraud Service Manager on 01224 049449.