Modern Slavery Bill: information on supply chains must be easy to access

Baroness Nosheena Mobarik CBE

 

Transparency is the new globalisation.  Transformative in its effects, demanding different ways of doing business, posing significant challenges while creating tremendous opportunities.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the management of international supply chains.  Investors, consumers and, increasingly, regulators all want to know more about company supply chains.  What is being sourced and made, from where, by whom, and in what conditions?

Horror stories about the human cost of many of the goods and services that we take for granted are all too familiar.  The Thai fishing industry is built on slavery, with men often beaten, tortured and sometimes killed – all to catch fish to feed the cheap farmed prawns sold in the west.  Or young girls trafficked into the Indian cotton mills, to work extremely long hours in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.

Slavery in supply chains is closer than we often realise.  Last November the owner of a bed factory in West Yorkshire that supplied chains such as Next and John Lewis was charged with human trafficking and slavery offences.

As consumers we all have a responsibility to help tackle these abhorrent practices, but we lack information to enable us to make the right choices.  I am working with other members of the House of Lords on a proposal to provide the public with more information on what businesses are doing to address these issues.

The Modern Slavery Bill is about to enter the final stages of Parliamentary scrutiny and will create a requirement for big businesses operating in the UK to tell the public what they are doing to eradicate slavery from their supply chains.  The bill pulls no punches; it’s intended to beat modern slavery.  In today’s world this can’t be achieved without business action, and the supply chain clause demonstrates government recognition of the vital role that business has to play.

I’m delighted that business has responded so positively to this proposal.  It has also been widely welcomed by investors and civil society groups, and has received cross-party support.  The measure has already caught the attention of other legislatures who, like us, are committed to stamping out the heinous crime of slavery.

Every business I’ve discussed this measure with is keen to prove that their due diligence is a matter of real ethical concern.  By opening up supply chains to greater scrutiny, consumers will be given greater choice and will be able to favour companies who are willing firstly to recognise that there is a problem and secondly to take positive action to address it.

There is no doubt that transparent supply chains make for a more attractive proposition to investors.  Supply chain scandals can become PR disasters, turning successful brands toxic within days.  Clearly investors want to know that companies are acting to avoid this risk.  Beyond this, investors are increasingly of the view that high standards in supply chains are in themselves central to long-term corporate sustainability and success.  Companies that cannot provide information on supply chains will see themselves quickly left behind.

On Wednesday 4 March the government will decide whether to amend the bill to create a central website which will make it easier to see the action that companies are taking.  There is support for this from many quarters.   The resourcing required would be relatively small and would, I believe, be money well spent, offering huge potential benefits.

I was honoured to devote my maiden speech in the House of Lord to the fight against slavery.  I am proud of this bill, and in particular of the ground-breaking clause on supply chains and the role of business.  Now, as the bill enters its final stages, I hope that the government will accept this amendment, which would make a major difference to its effectiveness.

Baroness Nosheena Mobarik CBE is a Conservative politician who was made a life peer in October 2014.  She is currently the Vice-Chairman of CBI Scotland and served a two year term as the Chairman of CBI Scotland from 2011-2013 having been a member of Council of CBI Scotland since September 2001.