How can businesses best combat modern slavery?

University of Bath

Failure to monitor outsourced recruitment is resulting in companies inadvertently employing victims of modern slavery, according to new research led by the University of Bath’s School of Management.

Interviews with experts in business, NGOs, trade unions, law firms and the police showed that while companies can increasingly trace where their products come from, many are in the dark about the backgrounds of their staff.

The research, conducted with the University of Sheffield, suggests that layers of outsourcing, subcontracting and informal hiring of temporary staff are to blame. This, say the researchers, enables victims of slave labour to be hidden within the workforce of companies and organisations, even those with the best of intentions.

Statistics recently released by the National Crime Agency showed that the number of people reported as potential victims of slavery and human trafficking in the UK has more than doubled in the past three years, with 3,805 people referred for help in 2016.

The researchers concluded that the key issue in tackling modern slavery is understanding the labour supply chain – the often unregulated networks through which contingent and sometimes forced or trafficked workers are recruited, transported, and supplied to business by third party agents.

Lead author, Professor Andrew Crane, Director of the University of Bath’s Centre for Business, Organisations and Society, explained: “Companies have little hope of detecting modern slavery practices unless they adopt a new approach that focuses specifically on their labour supply chains – they need to be able to trace the origin of their employees in the same way as most now can for their products.

“Twenty years ago most high street retailers did not have a clue where the products they sold actually came from. Since then, there has been a revolution in responsible business practices and companies have invested millions of pounds to trace the source of their products and tackle the myriad sustainability issues they found there. To prevent the misery of modern slavery from blighting our workforces companies must apply that same focus to their staff.”

 

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