THE UK is not keeping pace with global interventions to help the growing millions of people who are becoming embroiled in modern slavery, a new report from CCLA Asset Management says.
CCLA invests money on behalf of almost 12,000 Church of England clients, including parishes, dioceses, and cathedrals. Its latest report, Find It, Fix It, Prevent It, published on Tuesday, is named after its own initiative, launched at the London Stock Exchange in 2019, which aims to use CCLA’s leverage as investors to encourage companies to “find, fix, and prevent” modern slavery in their supply chains.
The report tracks three workstreams: corporate engagement, public policy, and developing better modern-slavery data.
On the first, CCLA engagement with the hospitality sector, which was found in 2020 to have high risks of modern slavery, produced “varied but positive results” among global corporations including the Compass Group. Last September, CCLA switched focus to the construction sector — specifically 15 international construction and engineering companies, UK housebuilders, and suppliers of materials to the building sector. This included Balfour Beatty, Taylor Wimpey, and the Berkeley Group Holdings.
“The programme has succeeded in taking some of the businesses under engagement on a journey that improves their risk-assessment processes,” the report says.
On public policy, CCLA points to its support of tightening Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, its hosting of a roundtable with the Minister for Safeguarding in October 2021, and its submission of written evidence to the Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Human Trafficking in March.
Next year, it plans to “influence a wide range of policy developments including work by the Financial Conduct Authority on guidelines for ESG rating companies and work commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions on the consideration of social risks and opportunities by occupational pension schemes”.
Finally, on data, the report says: “There is no definitive source of data, nor a suitable method available, to quantify or qualify the problem [of modern slavery] with any accuracy. A lack of readily available data is hindering the potential for investors to act.”
It continues: “A key issue is that without clear legislation there is a disincentive to companies to report transparently on modern-slavery risks in the supply chain.”
In 2022, however, the Find it, Fix it, Prevent it initiative analysed the 2021 Modern Slavery Statements of the FTSE100. It found that most companies (89 per cent) published modern-slavery statements, but that action taken was much lower: 20 per cent reported taking action to find cases of modern slavery in their supply chains, three per cent reported taking action to fix this, and 18 per cent reported taking preventative action.
More than 50 million people around the world are trapped in modern slavery, of whom 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were in forced marriage, the report says. Women, children, and migrants are disproportionately more vulnerable.
The chief executive of CCLA, Peter Hugh Smith, writes in a foreword to the report: “The picture on business efforts to tackle modern slavery is mixed and, in some ways, troubling. As this report notes, the estimated number of people around the world subjected to modern slavery is growing. We are seeing interventions by governments which are likely to have a very real impact on how businesses manage these risks but the UK, which used to be a leader in these matters, is regarded as not keeping pace.”
He continues: “It was concerning to read recently that, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), UK business efforts to tackle modern slavery are stalling, with the number of modern slavery statements submitted to the UK government registry falling sharply in 2022.”
A former UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, writes as a consultant for CCLA on modern slavery: “While slavery is illegal in every country in the world, our economic and financial systems appear to tolerate and even promote practices which result in this abuse. Governments bear significant responsibility to protect people from abuse but businesses themselves must also focus on preventing harm in their organisations and their supply chains.”