Modern Slavery – a status quo
Based upon a whitepaper “Will consumer awareness put an end to modern slavery?” by AI AsiaInspection, it is a global leading quality control and compliance service provider that partners with brands, retailers and importers around the world to secure, manage, and optimise their supply chain. We present to you some facts of modern slavery. The results do also affect the worldwide textile industry and their sourcing practice and the findings give exact data on the status quo. TextileFuture voices the opinion that it is worthwhile to know all the facts presented in the whitepaper
How Much Is the Value of Man?
Slavery is illegal worldwide since the last country banned it in 2007. However, modern slavery is still widespread and today’s consumers are unwittingly benefiting from cheaply priced goods available as a direct result of this harrowing practice.
While awareness of the extent of the problem is still very low, the sea change is starting. Recent lawsuits against major companies, including Nestlé, have been brought about by consumers themselves, throwing modern slavery into sharp relief. The United Kingdom recent Modern Slavery Act, which legally obliges companies to examine their entire supply chain for breaches, serves to add legal emphasis to the issue.
Modern day consumers are an increasingly powerful force that drives businesses to become more socially accountable. Consumers are taking companies to court demanding full disclosure of their supply chains, and they are willing to pay a premium for slave-free products. In this landscape of growing awareness, brands, retailers and manufacturers can no longer ignore their responsibilities to their workers, regardless of how far down the supply chain they might be.
Slavery is often viewed as the dark stain on the developed world’s history, when the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries was at its peak. Those horrendous times ended with the abolition of slave trade over the course of many years, most famously in the US after its 1861 Civil War. In reality, slavery is still rampant today. Modern slavery comes in many forms: human trafficking, forced labour, indentured servitude, debt bondage, and child labour.
Today, the number of people enslaved worldwide is estimated anywhere between 21 and 36 million, 26 % of which are children under the age of 18.1 Almost 50%, a staggering 14 million people, are enslaved in India.
China and Pakistan hold second and third place, with 3.2 million and 2.1 million respectively. Overall, the “top ten” of slavery-prevalent countries account for over 70% of the global total.2
A common misconception is that modern slavery and human trafficking are primarily limited to the sex industry, but as many as 78 % of slaves worldwide are victims of forced labour in industries that are not related to sex.
According to analysis by the labour rights NGO Verité, industries with the highest risk of slavery include textile and apparel manufacturing, fishing, construction, and mining.3
In pursuing lower priced inputs, brands and businesses have constructed vast global supply chains that extend to locations where the governments cannot be relied upon to enforce labour laws and uphold human rights.4 As a result, a high percentage of products used by a modern consumer can be potentially traced to modern slavery, several tiers into its production process.
Thai Fishing Industry – a Grave Example
The next time you go to the supermarket, look at the seafood in the frozen food department; a large percentage is sourced from Southeast Asia. The Thai seafood export business is worth some USD 7.3 billion a year. It’s also an industry that relies on forced labour.
Thailand has been in the spotlight as a major modern slavery offender, ever since an investigation conducted in 2014 revealed that Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, the world’s largest supplier of prawns (shrimps), buys fishmeal for its prawn farms from companies that use slave labour on their fishing boats. Escaped victims reported the horrific conditions in which they were forced to work unpaid, including 20-hour work days, being kept in chains, sold on to other boat owners, being regularly beaten and tortured, and many brutally murdered.5
At the time of this reveal, major retailers issued statements saying that it was against their policies to buy from suppliers who did not comply with national standards and international laws, and voicing their strong concerns about the involvement of slave labour in the products they bought from CP Foods. At the same time, many of them admitted that they did not investigate the full extent of their supply chain or change suppliers.
Most recently, Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have been providing a new source of slave labour for the fishing trade. Thousands of these refugees end up in so-called “jungle camps” controlled by human traffickers. Those unable to pay the ransom are sold to boat captains, worked to complete exhaustion and killed once considered useless.6 A number of such trafficking camps had been discovered and shut down in Thailand, and more recently, in Indonesia.
In 2015, over 2000 men from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have been liberated and sent home. Some of them had spent more than a decade enslaved on Thai fishing boats.7
Investigations of this sort are becoming more frequent, gradually dragging the extent of modern slavery into spotlight. But the progress remains slow, and products of slave labour are still being passed down the supply chain – from small boats and fisheries, to larger companies, to exporters like CP Foods, to global retail chains, and ultimately to the consumer.
Consumer awareness is gaining momentum
As more cases of modern-day slavery come into view and are put under investigation, consumers are adding increased pressure to companies, demanding more transparency in their supply chains. More and more modern consumers want to know the full story behind the products they buy, and whether or not, their purchase indirectly facilitates unethical practices and violations of human rights.
It is undeniable that consumers have real power to demand transparency and compliance of the brands – but once they are aware of the problems. Increasing the level of such awareness is among the top priorities of numerous anti-slavery initiatives and NGOs. A particularly interesting project, launched by the Made In A Free World initiative in 2011 under the name of SlaveryFootprint,8 offers consumers an estimate of how many slaves work for them, based on their lifestyle and purchasing habits. The idea is to sound a wakeup call to the harsh truth – any modern consumer is almost certainly benefiting from slave labour.
Consumer surveys show that the majority of consumers would change their purchasing decision depending on whether or not a certain product involved slavery or exploitation. In the UK and the US, 66 % of consumers would stop buying such a product, and more than half would agree to pay more for slavery-free goods (up to 10% premium in the US, up to 50 % premium in the UK). The sentiment was even stronger in shoppers of high-end brands; 86 % of consumers in the UK and and 70 % in the US would take action to ensure that their purchase did not involve exploitation. In the medium range brand sector, this number was around 75%. 9
Progress in legislation
The most recent development in legislation aimed at combating modern slavery is the UK’s Modern Slavery Act, which came into effect in March 2015, and it is the first legislative act of its kind in Europe. Its clause 54, Transparency in Supply Chain Provisions (amendment effective October 2015) legally obliges company management to examine every link of their supply chains, not just their immediate suppliers, and provide evidence of their findings. Companies that meet the minimum turnover threshold (GBP 36 million) must produce annual reports on their efforts to identify and prevent modern slavery in their supply chains.10
The Modern Slavery Act is a step forward from its US predecessor, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (CTSCA), which requires companies to disclose evidence of modern slavery in their supply chains and any efforts made to eliminate it, but does not actually oblige them to take action. In late 2014, the Federal Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Bill was sent to the US Congress. If passed, this bill would impose requirements similar to the CTSCA, on the federal level. 11
Brand and retailer effort
Some brands are taking steps to uncover and eradicate modern slavery in supply chains without waiting for government pressure. A good example of that is Patagonia, an outdoor apparel brand that has always prided itself on its ethical sourcing and manufacturing practices. A social responsibility audit of the brand’s Taiwanese suppliers, conducted in 2011, revealed that the fabric mills used labour brokers who charged migrant workers exorbitant fees for job placement, essentially forcing them into indentured servitude. To address this, Patagonia developed new Migrant Worker Employment Standards (implemented in 2014), conducted awareness training for its employees, and carried out numerous social responsibility audits of its raw material suppliers. The brand’s efforts were lauded by the International Labour Organisation.12
There are hundreds of associations, foundations and NGOs working to raise awareness and abolish modern slavery, some of the best-known ones being Walk Free, Free the Slaves, and Made In A Free World. However, it is not uncommon for consumers, to directly demand that manufacturers ensure that their products are slavery-free. In the aftermath of the CP Foods prawn scandal, a number of online petitions took off through websites like FairFoods, SumOfUs and Change.org. Petition signatories demanded that retailers pay living wages to Thai fishermen, end exploitation in the Thai fish and seafood industry, and join Project Issara, a Thai-based initiative to end modern slavery.
A year later, consumer pressure keeps mounting. In August 2015, four citizens of California filed a class action suit against Nestlé, with allegations of the use of slave labour in the production of their cat food, which, indeed, uses fish sourced from Thailand. “It’s a fact that the thousands of purchasers of its top-selling pet food products would not have bought this brand had they known the truth – that hundreds of individuals are enslaved, beaten or even murdered in the production of its pet food,” said the plaintiffs’ lawyer.13
These examples support the findings of the surveys quoted in this report. Consumers do feel strongly about involvement of slavery in the products they use, and they are willing to put the financial and social pressure on the manufacturers and retailers to change the status quo.
Importance of Slavery-Free Supply Chains
The examples above make it obvious that awareness of the abuse of human rights in supply chains has been increasing. Its pace might not yet be enough to end modern slavery tomorrow, but it is sufficient to make major brands wary of the consequences that unscrupulous or negligent treatment of supply chains can bring. Failure to ensure social responsibility min supply chains can cause disastrous brand value destruction, class actions lawsuits, and under the new UK legislation, fines and jail time. 14
Andrew Forrest, Chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, believes that the majority of companies do not wish to exploit people, but at the same time, they are reluctant to look too closely at their supply chains, for fear of discovering slavery, and thus suffering the resulting reputational damage. 15 Yet, for companies today, lack of awareness of what goes on in their supply chains is sooner an aggravating factor than mitigating. Major brands find themselves under increasing pressure – from “above” in the form of tightening legislation and from “below” in the form of consumers, who wish to be more aware of the products they buy, and demand that the businesses they patronise ensure such awareness.
That said, eliminating modern slavery from global supply chains is a tremendous challenge. Major brands’ supply chains are long and complex, crossing multiple borders and involving numerous subcontractors. In a survey by SCM World, only 17 % of companies said they had good visibility in their tier 3 and 4 suppliers – while the sourcing chains of global corporations can extend to many more tiers still. 16 Ensuring transparency and traceability is particularly difficult in low-cost destinations, which are often rife with corruption. Investigations into a brand’s supply chain should be conducted on-site, by auditors who are familiar with the country and the industry, and with a system in place to ensure that bribery is not an option.
Comprehensive Ethical Audits
AsiaInspection offers a range of tailored Ethical Audit Programs that help its clients ensure that every link of their supply chain meets international standards for social and ethical compliance, as well as the clients’ in-house policies on worker rights and labour safety. As more and more companies recognize the importance of social responsibility, there is growing demand from brands and retailers who are looking to secure their global supply chains. The demand for AsiaInspection’s ethical audit programs increased by 65% in the first quarter of 2015, and the upward trend remains strong.
Ethical audits can be conducted to meet client’s specific requirements, in addition to our Best-in-Class Audit Protocol, as well as several internationally recognised standards for social and ethical compliance.
AsiaInspection’s Ethical Audit Programs cover the following sections:
• Forced labour
• Child and young labour
• Working hours and wages
• Labour practices
• Hygiene, health and safety
• Waste Management
Although there are many well-known standards that clients can follow, AI AsiaInspection has formulated its own Best-in-Class Audit Protocol, which uses the best of existing initiatives, combined with the most effective practices that we have learned from performing 10000 ethical audits each year.
AI uses a standardized process for onsite audits that aims to provide accurate and reliable information, culminating in a Corrective Action Plan that gives clients and suppliers the opportunity to address any minor, major or critical issues. The firm conducts workshops to educate suppliers on best practices and help them achieve compliance. By giving all workers access to anonymous feedback channels, we gather the most objective information about their working conditions. Interviewees are cross checked, and follow-up interviews are held in case of any perceived inconsistencies.
To ensure manufacturing actually occurs at an approved factory, and not at an unauthorised subcontractor facility, Ethical Audit Programs are often combined with onsite product inspections. During its audits, AsiaInspection now tracks the GPS coordinates of a factory, which are included in the report.
Audits to International standards
AsiaInspection employs trained and professionally certified auditors that can perform audits according to all of the globally recognized social audits standards and protocols, including:
• SA8000 – one of the world’s first social certification standard, and the most internationally recognized. Unlike many other standards, SA8000 involves the top-level management in the certification process by setting out the structures and procedures that companies must adopt. Companies that achieve SA8000 certification, these are universally lauded as the best of their class in social responsibility. AsiaInspection ethical audit programs adhere to internationally recognized SA8000 standards for social and ethical compliance.
• SMETA – a compilation of best practices in ethical audits, established by Sedex. SMETA is not a standard or a certification process, but a set of protocols for high-quality ethical audits, which use ETI standards and local laws. This protocol is more supplier-oriented.
• ETI – an internationally recognized code of labour practice founded on the standards of the International Labour Organisation. ETI defines best practice in ethical trade and respects local laws. These global standards do not vary from country to country, and are applicable for all industries. The facts and figures of recent years point to the fact that ethical and social accountability are no longer a matter of philosophy – but a real business need. By ensuring the transparency and integrity of your supply chain, you protect your brand and reputation and create unmistakable value for your stakeholders. Given the vast size and geography of today’s corporate supply chains, professional ethical audits are the best way to inspect and verify the compliance of your suppliers.
1. U.N. International Labour Organization Global Estimate of Forced Labor 2012 –
2. Walk Free Global Slavery Index 2014 – http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/findings/
3. US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 – http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2015/
4. Tackling Modern Slavery in Supply Chains –
5. Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UK – http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/10/supermarket-prawns-thailand-produced-slave-labour
6. Revealed: how the Thai fishing industry traffick, imprisons and enslaves – http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/20/thai-fishing-industry-implicated-enslavement-deaths-rohingya
7. More than 2000 enslaved fishermen rescued in 6 months –
9. Modern Slavery Awareness Prompts Consumers to Switch Brands: Survey –
10. What does the Modern Slavery Act mean for brand protection? – Segura Systems Whitepaper http://inbound.segurasystems.com/what-the-modern-slavery-act-means-for-brand-protection
11. Recent developments in US legislation on modern slavery – http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f9b4675d-c785-4ac1-9d3d-7ed6346fb1cb
12. The Unacceptably High Cost of Labour –
13. Nestlé Accused of Putting Fish From Slave Labour in Cat Food –
14. Human Rights as a Business and Reputational Risk –
15. The Modern Slavery Bill: A Step in the Right Direction – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrewforrest/the-modern-slavery-bill-a_b_7010494.html