Companies falter in global drive to end modern slavery - index

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 26 September 2018 13:01 GMT

People's shadows are seen as shoppers are silhouetted in the bright sunshine at a shopping centre in London January, 28, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Boyce

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Private sector progress on tackling modern slavery came to a halt last year after an uptick in 2016

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON, Sept 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The global drive to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking is faltering as businesses worldwide are failing to increase efforts to clean up their operations, leaving millions of workers at risk of exploitation, analysts said on Wednesday.

Business advisory firm EcoVadis evaluated more than 33,000 companies around the world on issues such as labour and human rights practices, environmental impact and business ethics as part of its annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) index.

The company found that private sector progress on tackling modern slavery came to a halt last year after an uptick in 2016, with human trafficking remaining a common risk across many global industries - from farming to construction.

On average, large corporations with more than 1,000 workers fared worse than smaller companies, suggesting that they should invest more in addressing the issue, according to the report.

"Executives at large companies are less likely to have a direct oversight of the labor force and suppliers providing goods and services, and are therefore less aware of potential modern slavery incidents," EcoVadis said in its annual report.

Modern slavery is increasingly seen as a major global issue - estimated by the United Nations to trap 40 million people worldwide and generate $150 billion every year for traffickers.

Donna Westerman, head of consumer goods at risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft, said many companies had worked hard to tackle slavery over the last five years but warned that low-skilled, temporary and migrant workers needed better protection.

"In the future, companies are going to have to do more (on modern slavery)," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The starting point is to identify the differing levels of risk affecting your supplier base, depending on where they operate and what they produce, so you can understand where to focus your resources."

Businesses also performed poorly on reducing their environmental impact in 2017, with the global average score on the index in this area dropping slightly on the previous year.

The dip signalled that firms are failing to live up to the expectations of the 2015 Paris Agreement, to limit the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius, EcoVadis said.

"It appears that most businesses still do not see the climate agreement as an opportunity to redesign their activities, and are therefore not improving their environmental impact," the report said.

Efforts to reduce plastic waste in particular had been underwhelming, the index found.

Eight million tonnes of plastic – bottles, packaging and other waste – are dumped into the sea every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, the United Nations says.

Despite the United States pulling out of the climate accord, only North American companies improved their environmental record, while European firms fared better across the board.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Kieran Guilbert.

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