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Britain's top firms 'wholly inadequate' in tackling slavery, survey finds

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 19 November 2018 18:29 GMT

A general view of the financial district in London, Britain, September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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Big brands are facing growing pressure from regulators and consumers to ensure their operations are not tainted by slavery

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By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British companies' efforts to tackle modern slavery remain "wholly inadequate" three years after the country introduced some of the world's toughest legislation on the issue, a study published on Monday found.

Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act requires businesses whose turnover exceeds 36 million pounds ($48 million) to produce an annual statement outlining actions they have taken to combat slavery in their supply chains.

The study by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), a monitoring group, found that while most of the FTSE 100 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange complied, their statements were vague and lacked detail.

"The vast majority of companies' reported efforts are wholly inadequate," its executive director Phil Bloomer said in a statement.

Retailer Marks & Spencer performed best of the FTSE 100 firms, scoring 78 out of 100 points in the annual evaluation of the firms' statements.

Drinks company Diageo and supermarket chain Morrison ranked second and third, with 62 points each, but almost three out of four companies scored fewer than 40 points.

Big brands are facing growing pressure from regulators and consumers to ensure their global operations are not tainted by modern-day slavery, which campaigners estimate affects almost 40 million people worldwide.

"Big business in the UK has had three years to get to grips (with) the government's anti-slavery rules, but there has been little genuine effort to end exploitation," said Nick Grono, chief executive of the Freedom Fund, an anti-slavery group.

Gambling operator GVC Holdings, plumbing products distributor Ferguson and online real estate portal Rightmove ranked lowest.

Rightmove said it would publish a more detailed report next year, while GVC said the issue of modern slavery was of the upmost importance and it would make its statement more detailed and transparent.

Ferguson said the report was not based on its most recent statement and that it was firmly committed to eradicating any form of modern slavery.

Britain's Home Office (interior ministry) said it had written to the heads of 17,000 of the about 19,000 businesses covered by the law telling them to comply or risk being named and shamed.

Just over half have issued statements to date, according to Transparency in the Supply Chain (TISC), a public database.

TISC's chief executive Jaya Chakrabarti said companies' reports did not always give the full picture as some might give vague statements for legal and commercial reasons.

Asking firms to show evidence of what they were doing to clean up their supply chains while committing to only publish headline data could yield better results, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. (Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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