Businesses unite to tackle forced labour

15th January 2016

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James Suckling

The Consumer Goods Forum has launched a plan to eradicate forced labour from its members' supply chains.

The business group, which includes around 400 retailers, manufacturers and service providers globally, believes that the problem can be tackled more effectively by companies working collaboratively.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are around 20 million people in forced labour worldwide, 90% of them exploited in the private sector. It defines forced labour as where people are coerced to work though violence of intimidation, or by more indirect means such as retention of identity papers.

The forum aims to identify sectors and geographic locations where members share concern, and develop action plans to eliminate forced labour from them, using guidance from the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. It also plans to work with other industries, governments and civil society.

The group will also work on harmonising supply chain standards and systems and sharing best practice.

A statement from the forum’s board stated: “We acknowledge the broad societal problem of modern slavery and we strive to eradicate forced labour from our value chains. We will also continue not to tolerate forced labour within our own operations.

“Our industry is at risk, because of its complex, disaggregated global supply chains that rely on low-skilled labour,” it said.

Sectors such as food and drink, agriculture and manufacturing often involves some of the poorest countries in the world with limited institutional capacity to protect workers’ rights, it added.

The work will come under the forum’s social steering committee, which is chaired by Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks and Spencer, and Jeff Seabright chief sustainability officer at Unilever.

Aidan McQuade, director of NGO Anti-Slavery International welcomed the forum’s resolution, which it said was the first industry commitment of its kind. “Industry leaders can only do so much at individual company level, so such a global collaboration and commitment is crucial to helping to eradicate forced labour from value chains,” he said.

The forum is inviting other members to join its initiative. Companies who are interested should contact [email protected].


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