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Modern Slavery in Supply Chain
History is riddled with horrible stories of slavery and human trafficking which can be seen across a variety of cultures and time periods. Today many people tend to view slavery as a historical problem, but our current evidence suggests our modern world has yet to eradicate this crime. An estimated 25 million people are trapped in forced labor worldwide, often in the procurement of raw materials or manufacturing of goods. Many of these people are children, persons with disabilities, poverty-stricken individuals, and other vulnerable groups. The UK National Crime Agency reports a 10-fold increase on suspected slavery cases in 2018 compared to past years.
The presence of modern slavery in manufacturing presents an ethical question; how much responsibility should lie with procurement professionals to ensure the products and materials they buy are ethically made or procured? While it is agreed that professionals should be required to act ethically when presented with the facts, cases of forced labor can be difficult to identify and may not be known to the procurement professionals. It is believed that modern slavery thrives in manufacturing due to the secrecy that commonly surrounds the production of goods. Removing this veil of secrecy through increasing supply chain visibility can help to make identifying these cases easier. Many developed nations are actively pursuing policies designed to ensure that instances of forced labor are easier to identify, helping to make it easier to make informed ethical procurement decisions.
Australia recently announced a modern slavery bill designed to create more ethical procurement by Australian companies. Under this bill, large companies are required to annually report on the measures they have taken to address modern slavery in their supply chain. Recently Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States jointly entered a call to action for the end of modern slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking globally. Government policies like these are working to improve supply chain visibility, but they cannot tackle the problem of modern slavery alone. Companies must also make efforts to increase their own visibility, and pursue ethical procurement decisions. Public-private partnerships are ideal for effectively tackling this complex issue. Together we can work for a world without modern slavery, forced labor, or human trafficking.