The term ‘modern slavery’ seems like a distant concept that many of us most likely don’t think too much about, if at all. However, globally there are more than 40 million slaves in almost 170 countries with roughly two thirds located in Asia–Pacific. In fact, according to The Global Slavery Index, around 70 per cent of these workers are female.
The figures reveal the highest numbers of slaves recorded in human history.
Alarmingly, slavery today generates a tremendous profit, estimated to be roughly US$150 million each year, as company supply chains across the globe continue to enable myriad forms of modern slavery that can range from controlling and exploiting workers in various ways to poor wages; behaviours that deny individuals of their right to personal or financial gain.
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From electronic gadgets and clothing to many kitchen staples, including fish, cocoa and sugar, modern slavery is largely an invisible issue to most consumers and an opportunity at the same time for business leaders to gain deeper insights into their supply chains and enforce ethical standards throughout.
“It’s only a matter of time before we find that it’s much, much cheaper to do the right thing, to do the more business-savvy thing in your supply chain, than to ignore the problem and push it away,” explains Molly Harriss Olson, CEO of Fairtrade Australia New Zealand.
Olson identifies a lack of transparency as a barrier to eliminating slavery, stating that all companies should be reporting against the Modern Slavery Act with greater involvement from the community to uphold accountability.
“I don’t want to spend our company’s money with organisations that don’t care if they’re using slave labour. I don’t want to deal with those people. I want to deal with companies whose values are aligned to ours.” – David Cooke
By choosing to address this complex social issue through closely examining the inner workings of its supply chain and taking action accordingly, a company is ultimately safeguarding its future and reputation.
“Modern slavery is unacceptable and it is incumbent upon us, as business leaders, to use our leverage both individually and collectively to do everything we can to eradicate this scourge. Business has a responsibility to put in place strong policies and promote best practices to ensure safe and fair supply chains and to accelerate efforts to tackle root causes that drive poverty, and it makes indeed good business sense,“ affirms Paul Polman, Co-founder and Chair of Imagine, and Chair of The B Team.
The Institute of Business Ethics has found a correlation between increased profitability and companies openly committed to ethical business practice. Not only does the association of sweatshops and child labour with a company negatively impact employees and securing new talent, but also customer loyalty and the ability to attract potential investors, or it may also present a barrier to entering into a new market.