ETI trainer and blogger Stirling Smith asks of slavery - isn't that something in the history books?
ETI's new Base Code Guidance: Modern slavery - practical guidance for brands and retailers.
Slavery was legally abolished in the British Empire in 1834. But, as I pointed out in a blog last year, some British companies continued to benefit from slave labour well into the 20th century.
And now slavery is making a comeback. Because, like the slavery that was legally abolished in 1834, modern slavery is very likely to be at the heart of many modern global supply chains as this Verité human trafficking investigation into the supply chains of over 40 commodities indicates.
The kind of slavery that existed in Rome was dying out by the 15th century, at least in Western Europe. Then with the opening up of the Americas, and new sea routes to the fabled riches of the East, new products and new global supply chains emerged.
The triangular trade: goods, slaves, sugar
Sugar was one of the most significant products and most people can remember from school the triangular trade: stuff was carried on ships from Britain to West Africa, exchanged there for slaves who were then transported to the West Indies and put to work on sugar plantations, and the sugar was then shipped back to Britain.
Slavery was central to the economic transformation to modern capitalism. It was stamped out in the middle of the 19th century. But it’s back because of the economic transformation of the last three decades - the process we call globalisation. Slavery is part of 21st-century global supply chains just as it was in the 18th century. Products of modern slavery could be in your wardrobe and on your table.
The UK's Modern Slavery Act
Modern slavery covers slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking and the UK's new Modern Slavery Act requires UK-based companies to report on what they are doing to find modern slavery in their supply chains.
Any business with a turnover of more than £36 million must now post a statement on their website about the steps they are taking to ensure their supply chains are free of modern slavery.
ETI's Modern Slavery training
The ETI has prepared a new training course to help companies and last month a group of volunteers sat through a pilot workshop and gave us some great feedback.
Of course, ETI members have been examining their supply chains for many years, trying to work with suppliers, and trade unions and NGOs to better implement the ETI Base Code. But even long-standing members accept that this is relatively new territory. Modern slavery tends to be hidden away. It’s not like the 18th century where public auctions of slaves were held. That kind of slavery is illegal in every country in the world.
An important takeaway from the training was that the due diligence which might work for investigating whether or not workers are paid the minimum wage, or whether they are working excessive overtime, doesn’t necessarily work when you are trying to find modern slavery in your supply chain.
ETI member companies, large and small, who attended the training, told us that they learned a lot about how to look for modern slavery, what to do if they find it, and how they can draft that statement that is going to go on their websites.
If you have read my blogs about ETI training before, you won’t be surprised to learn that we try to make the course interactive and practical. You will be asked to wear a funny hat, but that isn’t compulsory.
There are plenty of courses available over the next few months and you can pick a course where you will be working with other companies from the same sector.
Book your Modern Slavery training course here