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Is slavery present in your supply chain?

Having worked in crisis management for more than 15 years, largely rolling out crisis simulation exercises, I’ve seen a number of different crisis scenarios come and go. Once we were obsessed with pandemic flu, bird flu, SARS, white powder attacks, mad cow disease and of course terrorism. Unfortunately, terrorism is still with us, but many of the others seems oddly distant now.

Ask anyone in crisis management today and it’s all about cyber-attacks and data breaches. We work in sectors that are heavily regulated, where losing data is an ever-present concern. Mention the word cyber and bankers break into a cold sweat. With the advent of GDPR data protection is now the concern of pretty much everyone.

Ever on the lookout for new angles, I was intrigued when a client asked for an anti-slavery scenario. I’d never touched this subject before. So, this morning I’ve been digging around news sites and looking into anti-slavery organisations to get a feel for the problem and how we might challenge the exercise participants.

Track and trace

The nub of the problem for modern companies is the length of their supply chain. According to Anti-Slavery International‘Many of the products we buy and use every day were made by people in slavery. There is evidence of slavery in different stages of supply chains from the production of raw materials, for example cocoa, cotton, or fishing, to manufacturing every-day goods such as mobile phones or garments. Because of the complexity of supply chains, it is rarely possible to be certain that a product has or has not been produced using slavery’.

There’s also a need to trace the origin of employees and staff as well as products. It seems forced labour can appear invisible even when it’s in plain sight.

For people who procure casual labour this may mean looking in areas they might not normally consider to be a risk, such as overnight cleaners and catering staff.

More than 5,000 potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery were reported to UK authorities last year, the highest number on record.

Exploitation and abuse of workers is widespread across the UK economy, according to a recent report. High-risk sectors include: cleaning, construction, recycling, nail bars, car washes, agriculture, food packing, catering, taxi driving and domestic work.

The report from the UK government’s Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) found evidence of long shifts of 12-15 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, wages below the legal minimum or not paid at all, and dangerous working and living environments.

In most instances companies just want to reduce costs and would be horrified to learn they are in any way supporting slavery or abuse, but of course ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law.

When it comes to scoping out your next crisis exercise you might want to consider whether your supply chain is a risk to your company’s well-being. Perhaps an anti-slavery scenario is one you should be considering.