There were 2,744 potential victims of human trafficking in the UK last year – and that could just be the tip of the iceberg, according to Karen Bradley, who is minister for modern slavery at the Home Office. Globally, there could be as many as 30 million slaves in the world.
The figures go some way to explaining why the UK government is introducing legislation to stamp this out. And in a speech to the Co-operative Food Ethical Trade Conference, last week Bradley made it very clear that the government is looking to industry to play a major role in eliminating slavery from supply chains.
She said: “ The most progressive measure in the Bill is related to improving transparency in supply chains. This is truly a world-leading measure. The UK will be the first country in the world to introduce such a requirement on larger businesses to disclose what steps they have taken to ensure that their supply chains are slavery free.”
Bradley clearly wants to encourage public scrutiny of company’s supply chain practices. “Once businesses are required to disclose what they are doing to tackle modern slavery, consumers and campaigners up and down the country will have a better understanding of what action business is taking, and can call for more action if they think more is needed,” she said.
“Many businesses are already taking action to eliminate modern slavery. Our hope is that once we make it clear what activity major businesses are undertaking, public pressure and competition between businesses will encourage others who have not taken decisive steps to act.”
The UK legislation is similar to a California law, but goes further in covering services as well as goods. There are still decisions to be made – the intention is only to cover large companies, but there will be a consultation on how big.
While there is still a lot of discussion ahead on this legislation, it is likely that supply chains will come in for an unprecedented level of scrutiny in the future.