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Companies talk more than act on modern slavery, says CCLA

08 December 2023

iStock

NEW benchmarking by the sustainable investment company CCLA Investment Management suggests that, while all 100 of the top-listed companies in the UK have policies to combat modern slavery, the emphasis is on policy rather than on practical action.

Data published last month by the International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation in their Global Slavery Index estimate that 50 million people worldwide are currently in a state of modern slavery; 28 million of those are in forced labour. Most business sectors are affected through their global operations and supply chains where they are linked to human-rights abuses. The UK imports products worth $26.1 billion annually which are at risk of being made using forced labour.

Twenty-five of the 100 companies assessed by CCLA, which invests money on behalf of almost 12,000 C of E bodies, including parishes, dioceses, and cathedrals, reported finding modern slavery in their supply chain. Thirty companies disclosed the steps taken to end ongoing risks where a violation was found, and nine companies reported outcomes of the remedy process for victims. Only one firm disclosed evidence of providing remediation that was satisfactory to the victims of modern slavery.

Benchmarking is based on an assessment of the company’s own disclosures, and is aligned with statutory requirements, government guidance, and international voluntary standards on business and human rights.

The assessment assigned them to one of five tiers. Kingfisher, Marks & Spencer, Next, Reckitt Benckiser, Tesco, and Unilever all appear in tier one as leaders on human-rights innovation. The report says that these companies display “an evolved and mature approach to human rights due diligence”. In these companies, it says, “there is extensive discussion on the risks, case studies on systemic modern slavery risks in the sector, and discussion on meaningful activity to find, fix and prevent modern slavery.”

Examples of good practice include Marks & Spencer’s providing confidential reporting channels for suppliers, managed by an independent and external facility, in the complainant’s own language. Tesco is said to have become a member of the Action Collaboration Transformation campaign, which aims to drive living wages for garment-sector workers through collective bargaining and freedom of association.

The report highlights that the highest-scoring companies are consumer-facing businesses. The lower tiers “were dominated by financials, industrials and materials”, it says.

The benchmarking report is designed to help investors to understand which companies are active in the fight against modern slavery. It sets out several recommendations for companies, investors, and policy makers. It urges companies to ensure that there is board-level responsibility for governance on modern slavery; to conduct and disclose operational and supply-chain risk assessments to disclose details of suspected cases of modern slavery and the steps taken to provide remedy for victims and to adopt and disclose responsible procurement practices in line with international best practice.

CCLA’s chief executive, Peter Hugh Smith, said: “Large, listed companies are in an influential position to set standards, implement policies, and find, fix, and prevent modern slavery, and we will use this benchmark to engage and to push for improvements. In the event that companies in tiers four and five do not engage, we will vote against their financial statement and annual accounts.”

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