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Slavery: (not) coming to a store near you

Think Global’s Head of Programmes Monika Kruesmann looks at new measures enshrined in the Modern Slavery Act, which will force big business to report on what they’re doing to combat slavery in the supply chains that stock our supermarket shelves.

When we think of ‘slavery’ what comes to mind? Chains gangs, human markets, rich white landowners in top hats looming over cowering labourers? Or maybe, if you’ve seen Django Unchained it’s all just a horrific blood-bath?

Either way, we often still tend to think of ‘slavery’ as something that happened in the past, and that’s done with today. Of course, that’s far from the truth. Slavery continues across the world; only sometimes in more subtle and covert ways.

One of the consequences of increasing globalisation is that things that happen in one part of the world can be transferred, or have implications, in other parts of the world – and more quickly and more comprehensively than ever. So, slavery practices in one country can quickly become embedded in systems of exchange and trade in other countries too – including here in the UK.

Modern commercial supply chains are one of those phenomena of globalisation where this is most relevant. Think Global is currently working with other country partners across the EU on a project to understand and improve the ethics and operations of global supply chains used by the major supermarkets. We already know that slavery exists within those supply chains; and one of the aims of the project is to improve the legislative framework for stamping it out.

So we are encouraged by the news that as of tomorrow, Friday 31 July 2015, a raft of new measures enshrined in the Modern Slavery Act will come into force. These include a legal requirement that all large companies operating in the UK (that is, with a turn-over of £36m or more) will have to deliver an annual slavery and human trafficking statement, covering all aspects of their global supply chains. Read more about the Act here.

This is an important step forward in the fight against modern slavery, and we are really looking forward to learning more about the efforts of large supermarkets to combat such a pernicious practice. Of course there is still much more work to do. We all have an obligation to try and understand how our food is produced; but because supply chains these days are so complex, supermarkets also have an obligation to positively demonstrate that they are not sourcing goods tainted by human trafficking or slavery.

Over the next months and years we will be working on a range of activities to try and make sure supermarket foods (which some would say are cheap partly because of immoral and/or illegal practices buried deep within their supply chains) don’t end up quite literally costing us the earth.

For more information on our SupplyCha!nge project, contact our Programme Manager Faaria Ahmad.

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