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Britain's top firms fail to tackle slavery with 'tick box' culture

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 17 October 2017 19:55 GMT

A view of the London skyline shows the City of London financial district, seen from St Paul's Cathedral in London, Britain February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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About half of Britain's biggest firms provide "no meaningful information" about their actions to stamp out slavery in their supply chains

(Adds comment paragraphs 9, 10, 15, 16)

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The majority of Britain's biggest firms have taken a "tick box" approach to a landmark anti-slavery law, with half providing "no meaningful information" about their actions to stamp out slavery in their supply chains, a survey said on Tuesday.

Under Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act, all businesses with a turnover of more than 36 million pounds ($48 million) must produce an annual statement outlining actions they have taken to combat slavery in their supply chains.

For the second year running, retailer Marks & Spencer was the best performing among the 100 firms with the highest market value on the London Stock Exchange, or FTSE 100, surveyed by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).

"It's disappointing that after the first full year of reporting under the Act, so many of the FTSE 100 companies are still taking a 'tick box' approach," the monitoring group's executive director Phil Bloomer said in a statement.

Key anti-slavery groups said last month that 24.9 million people globally are trapped in forced labour, such as working in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats, and as domestic or sex workers.

The 2015 law was passed in response to revelations that slave labour is being used to produce everything from T-shirts to mobile phones for global consumption.

BHRRC only gave 11 out of 100 companies a score of six or more out of 10 for the quality of actions they reported in their modern slavery statement in the six areas suggested by the Act.

These include statements on companies' policies in relation to slavery, due diligence in supply chains and staff training.

Bloomer called on the British government to buy goods and services only from companies that demonstrate they are making an effort to eliminate forced labour.

"Reward companies that are doing the right thing and exclude companies that are doing the wrong thing," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at a conference in London.

British supermarket Sainsbury's emerged the second best performer, along with consumer goods giant Unilever.

These companies explained the risks identified in their supply chains, reviewed their policies, and collaborated with experts and peers to learn best practice, BHRRC said.

The survey found that 43 companies did not meet the Act's requirement of posting a statement on their website which had been approved by the board and signed by a director.

"The actions of a small number of leading companies will not compensate for the poor performance by the majority," it said.

The largest firms set a poor example for the 9,000 to 11,000 businesses estimated to be covered by the Act's reporting requirements, Bloomer said.

"We are not seeing a very high bar being set by the FTSE 100," he told the conference, adding that Britain's top companies have the resources and reach to improve the lives of millions of slavery victims.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katy Migiro and Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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