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Wilberforce’s Legacy in the 21st Century is to alert businesses to exploitative labour in the supply chain

The past 10 years have seen a massive growth in ethical and sustainable trade in European markets. This growth has been coupled with greater regulation on health and safety, and the emergence of a market for certified products and services that provide consumers with reassurance on the provenance and quality of products.

Companies increasingly place an emphasis on the ethics and sustainability behind their brands to differentiate their products and communicate their credentials to consumers. The latest figures from the Cooperative group show that demand for ethical consumer goods and services in the UK has reached £47.2 billion, and that small scale green energy is booming with sales of green home products reaching £8.4 billion.
Within this context, the UK is at the forefront of European efforts to address exploitative labour practices and modern slavery in business supply chains. Recent legislation, for example, regulates the agencies that place vulnerable workers into exploitative situations in agricultural work and the shellfish collecting and packing industries.

Now, with the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill, the UK is consolidating the current offences relating to trafficking and slavery. It will create two new civil orders to prevent modern slavery and make provision for the protection of modern slavery victims. A provision requiring supply chain transparency is also part of the frat legislation.
In order to provide expert advice to British businesses, the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) at the University of Hull, the largest and oldest such labour and human rights institute in the UK, has established a focused unit of supply chain specialists. The team includes social auditors and hands-on business advisers, with direct experience of dealing with forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking and smuggling in supply chains.

The unit has been set up to provide system checks for businesses and organisations, and is ready to perform practical risk assessments to alert business to potential risks in their supply chains.
Cristina Talens, who is managing the project says, ‘Whilst social audits enable companies to spot check working conditions, they may not be effective at unearthing ‘more difficult’ labour issues, further down the supply chain. A special focus in on the transition and transformation as products moves from one supplier to another. Our extensive and unique databases allow us to examine those complex supply chains to ensure that businesses can have traceability. ’

The risk assessment will draw on information and findings collected by the Global Slavery Index at the University of Hull. This is the first comprehensive index of its kind, providing information for 167 countries on potential risks of human trafficking and slavery in commodities and products. John Oldfield, Director of WISE says, ‘We want to provide businesses with practical risk assessments that help them identify any potential exploitative labour. Our aim is to advise them on simple procedures that might help mitigate these risks. This could be interesting for businesses who want to demonstrate due diligence, but avoid embarking on costly social audit programmes from the outset’.

For further information please contact Cristina Talens on

T: 01482 305176
Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE)

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