What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is the term used to describe some of the world’s worst forms of exploitation, including human trafficking, domestic servitude, child labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, sexual exploitation and more. It is estimated that as many as 40 million people are now trapped in modern slavery worldwide, more than at the peak of the transatlantic slave trade in the 1800s.  

A number of countries have enacted tough legislation to combat modern slavery in the corporate world by increasing transparency in companies’ supply chains.

Modern slavery acts in the UK, EU, US, and other countries around the world require large companies to publicly disclose information about their efforts to eradicate human trafficking and slavery within their supply chains. These statements must include a report of the steps taken during the past financial year to ensure that these human rights violations are not taking place in any part of the business or its trading partners. It is expected that a growing number of countries will adopt similar legislation in the future. 

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Picture: Craig Watson/ SWNS.com

Dame Ann Gloag, one of Scotland’s richest women with an estimated fortune of £800m, has recently found herself facing charges of human trafficking, along with her husband and two other family members. This revelation has not only tarnished her reputation but has also raised questions about the measures companies must take to ensure they do not support modern slavery. In today’s tricky compliance landscape, it becomes evident that ethical considerations and risk assessments are of utmost importance in today’s business landscape.

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Modern Slavery Freedom

Modern countries are fighting forced labour and human trafficking with legislation that makes it harder to use forced labour in their supply chains and profit from it. Modern slavery acts in the United Kingdom, United States, and other countries around the world are requiring large companies to disclose information regarding their efforts to eradicate human trafficking and slavery within their supply chains. The legislation also requires companies to take concrete steps to combat modern slavery when it is discovered. The US has recently introduced the Slave-Free Business Certification Bill 2022.

Slave-Free Business Certification Bill of 2022: What is it?

With this recent bill, the US is joining the growing list of countries requiring businesses to examine more extensively possible problems with modern slavery in their supply chains. If passed, the bill will require large companies to undergo mandatory audits that will identify if they are or are not using forced labour within their supply chains.

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As the World Cup continues in Qatar, the event is being closely watched. Not only in terms of results of fixtures, but in the cost of human life. 

Due to the complexity and invisibility of forced labour and modern slavery in the supply chain, it’s impossible to close in on an exact number of people entrapped in these conditions today, but it is estimated that around 40 million people are trapped in forced labour worldwide in various forms.

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A Young Girl Sews Fabric for a Clothes Retailer
Does your organisation know exactly what is happening in its supply chains?

Is your company benefitting from modern slavery? 

More than 150 years after slavery was officially abolished, there are more slaves than ever before. It is estimated that as many as 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in modern slavery worldwide. These include workers abused around the world and in your city, forced under threat of punishment to work, or to provide services without being able to leave.

Modern slavery laws have thrust much of the responsibility for fighting these abuses onto the corporate sector, making supply chain transparency an increasingly important topic. Companies are now expected to take a proactive role to ensure that slavery and human trafficking are not taking place within their businesses or any of their suppliers. 

VinciWorks’ new brief but comprehensive course will help employees understand the realities of modern-day slavery, the legislation being used to fight it, and what your company can do to help. 

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VinciWorks’ modern slavery webinar 2022

Our modern slavery webinar on 26 October 2022 looked at the latest in modern slavery compliance. During the webinar, we received a number of questions about modern slavery which we have answered below.

There is also some additional information on the basics of modern slavery, tackling this issue as a business, and what to consider in the supply chain.

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Since the UK Modern Slavery Act came into force, it is estimated that the number of people trapped in forced labour or forced marriages has actually increased, with the number now believed to have reached over 50 million. A mixture of armed conflict, climate change and the global pandemic has made modern slavery a growing challenge, despite an increase in regulations in many countries.

With the UK and other countries set to strengthen their regulations, in this webinar, we look at whether businesses are doing enough to eradicate modern slavery.

The webinar covered:

  • What businesses are currently doing well and how they can improve
  • MSA best practice
  • How modern slavery compliance can enhance your ESG programme
  • Guidance on producing annual modern slavery statements
  • Processes and tools to help you stay on top of your supply chains

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Anti-Slavery Day

Modern slavery and human trafficking

Modern slavery and human trafficking are grave violations of human rights that continue to exist in various forms across the world. They involve the exploitation and control of individuals through force, coercion, or deception for various purposes, including labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and child exploitation.

Modern slavery refers to situations where individuals are trapped in situations of exploitation, often working in harsh conditions, with limited or no freedom to leave their situation. This can include forced labour in industries such as agriculture, construction, manufacturing, domestic work, and the garment industry. It can also involve human trafficking, where individuals are transported across borders for the distinct purpose of exploitation.

Human trafficking increasing globally

Modern slavery is witnessing a concerning surge on a global scale, with various factors contributing to its proliferation. Economic inequality and poverty create fertile ground for exploitation, as individuals facing dire circumstances become vulnerable to traffickers and forced labour. The expansion of global supply chains within an increasingly interconnected world has made monitoring labour practices challenging, allowing unscrupulous actors to exploit workers undetected. Moreover, mass migration and displacement, often triggered by conflicts and political instability, leave displaced populations susceptible to trafficking and forced labour due to their limited legal protections. Weak governance, corruption, and a demand for cheap labour further exacerbate this grave issue. Insufficient awareness, reporting mechanisms, and effective enforcement perpetuate the clandestine nature of modern slavery.

As human trafficking increases in 2023, countries adapt to the challenge

Modern slavery is as important a topic as ever today. The exploitation and trafficking of people for commercial gain is a greater global problem than even during the days of the transatlantic slave trade centuries ago.

Modern slavery examples

A number of current global events are exacerbating the problems of modern slavery. Russia’s war against Ukraine has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, making them vulnerable to traffickers who can easily abduct them for exploitation. Children are particularly vulnerable amidst the refugee crisis, as are women. While no one has any numbers, reports indicate that, in the words of a UN official, human trafficking is evolving into “a crisis within a crisis”. 

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where extreme poverty is prevalent following the Taliban’s takeover of the country last year, desperation has made forced labour commonplace. In addition, a growing number of families are choosing to sell their children into forced marriages in order to have money to buy food. 

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What’s changing in the world of mandatory corporate compliance?

The EU’s proposed new corporate due diligence and corporate accountability directive will cover companies that sell to the EU, not just those based there. Businesses will be required to identify, address and remedy their impact on human rights and the environment. Crucially, this is likely to go up and down the value chain, which means customers as well as suppliers. Businesses could be sued inside the EU for human rights violations or environmental damage committed by their customers or end-users of their products in third countries. 

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We’d like to think slavery has been consigned to history, but sadly, that’s far from true. According to Anti-Slavery International, it is estimated that 40 million people are trapped in modern slavery today. According to the Global Slavery Index, there is a surprisingly high rate of slavery in developed countries: an estimated one in 800 people in the US, for example, and 10,000 people in the UK, though the real number is probably much higher. Another possibly surprising fact is that roughly 90% of slaves are victimised by private enterprise, and that may be because it seems profitable: $150 billion is generated from the forced labor industry every year.

Being an enabler of modern slavery is not only terrible on an ethical level; it can also cause severe reputational and financial damage on an organisational level. But by knowing what to look out for, asking the right questions, and knowing how to respond, you and your organisation can take an active part in helping abolish modern slavery.

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