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Eradication of Slavery (UK Company Supply Chains)

Volume 541: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2012

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require retailers and manufacturers in the UK to make annual statements of measures taken by them to eradicate slavery and human trafficking and exploitation from their direct supply chains; to require large retailers and manufacturers to provide customers with information about measures taken by them to eliminate slavery and human trafficking and exploitation; to provide victims of slavery with necessary protections and rights; and for connected purposes.

This House is rightly proud of its contribution to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade 200 years ago, but a lesson that we need to learn is that we cannot be complacent. It is shocking that in the last quarter of a century the existence of modern forms of slavery has actually grown. From child labourers on west African cocoa farms to Chinese prisoners being exported to the Maldives to build infrastructure projects, slavery is thriving around the world. As consumers, we enjoy the cheap products that forced labour has helped to deliver. The aim of my Bill, which is modelled on legislation already in force in California, is to ensure that consumers know when forced labour has been used to make a product that they buy. Armed with that knowledge, they might well choose an alternative.

The Bill would require large UK manufacturers and retailers to report on the following issues in their annual reports and on their websites. They would have to report on how they verified product supply chains to evaluate and address the risks of human trafficking and slave labour. They would have to describe the audits that they conducted to ensure that suppliers adhered to company standards. They would need to certify, through direct suppliers, that the materials used to make a product were from countries that did not engage in slavery and human trafficking and that complied with anti-trafficking laws. They would have to describe their procedures to ensure that employees and contractors maintained company standards on human trafficking and slavery, and the training on human trafficking that was provided to personnel working in supply chain management, focusing on where the risk was greatest. In addition, my Bill would place a duty on a company that uncovered trafficking or slavery within its supply chain to provide remediation to victims. This could include education for children, or refuge or payment to adult victims.

Clearly, such a range of responsibilities would be a burden on a smaller company, so the reporting requirements of the Bill would apply only to companies that generated sales worldwide of at least £500 million. That stretches from such companies as Ocado to Tesco via brands such as L’Oréal and Imperial Tobacco, and it excludes smaller companies. The burden is not fundamentally a regulatory one; it is a responsibility to report. My belief is that, confronted with knowledge of such a practice within their supply chain, most successful companies would want to drive it out. Customers would also want to choose slavery-free products.

So what do I mean by slavery and trafficking? In 1930, the International Labour Organisation convention concerning forced and compulsory labour defined slavery in a way that included

“all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”

This century, the UN protocol on trafficking in persons defines trafficking as

“the recruitment…(etc) of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion…(etc) to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs…Most simply, slavery covers anyone who is forced to work without pay, being economically exploited and unable to walk away.”

It is an archaic and demeaning practice, yet as the campaign group Slavery Footprint, which can provide people with a phone app to count how many slaves are working for them, points out, people are made vulnerable to this kind of exploitation by high rates of unemployment, poverty, crime, discrimination, corruption, political conflict or cultural acceptance of practices.

If we all agree that slavery and trafficking are wrong, why has more not been done? I want to recognise that some companies have done good work to eliminate slavery. Let us take chocolate, for instance. In 2001, the global cocoa industry committed to ending child trafficking in its supply chains through the US-based Harkin-Engel protocol, but it worked too slowly. By 2009, it was estimated that there were still more than 1.8 million children working in the cocoa industry, many of them trafficked.

Progress is now being made. As the MP representing Mars chocolate factory in Slough, I am proud to say that in 2009 it committed to certify independently its entire cocoa supply by 2020. Mars launched the first Rainforest Alliance-certified chocolate bar in the UK —Galaxy—in 2010, and will go Fairtrade with Maltesers this summer. I gather from its competitor Nestlé that KitKat is also being certified by UTZ.

John Lewis Partnership is an example of a retail company that is acting. It has explicit requirements in its suppliers’ code of practice, which is available on its website, to prevent the employment of children and the use of forced labour. Many smaller UK companies that supply large companies based in California are already being required to report as part of their supply chain audit.

Not all the Bill’s sponsors, who include 11 Members from six different parties, will share my concern about abuse of the process whereby unemployed people can get work experience in retail stores here in Britain. This can be a great chance to learn about the world of work, but in some cases in my constituency people have received no training, have been used to substitute for paid labour and face withdrawal of benefits if they discontinue the placement after the first week. The Bill was not designed to address that problem. Indeed, when I conceived it, I thought its application to UK-based companies would not extend beyond parts of the agriculture and food industries that were already regulated by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. However, if we are not vigilant, exploitation will not be confined to the poorer countries where it thrives most. In enabling public information to be provided, the Bill aims to use the power of the purchaser to prevent slavery and exploitation.

I hope that by raising the issue and debating it, we shall accelerate progress towards the eradication of slavery from the supply chains of every major UK company before the decade is out.

Question put and agreed to.


That Fiona Mactaggart, Mr Richard Bacon, Hugh Bayley, Tom Brake, Michael Connarty, Mark Durkan, Jane Ellison, Dr Julian Lewis, Caroline Lucas, Siobhain McDonagh, Jim Shannon and Jim Sheridan present the Bill.

Fiona Mactaggart accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 March, and to be printed (Bill 311).