An end to slavery

Another story of slave labour in Britain hit the headlines this week with the trial of yet another gang exploiting migrant workers for vast profit. This would be shocking if we hadn’t heard it all before.

While many large companies do audit their supply chain, including Tesco and Waitrose who had purchased the produce harvested by the labourers in question, it is clear that the steps taken to monitor conditions were insufficient. Visits to the fields by representatives from the supermarkets were said to have been infrequent and by prior arrangement. If such due diligence is so ineffective in the UK, it’s hard to imagine how inhuman labour conditions can be eradicated as far afield as India and China.

So why does this keep happening? It is clear that the balance between the drive for profit and the need to provide low-cost produce creates the potential for such a risk. Furthermore, the damage to reputation from such revelations is clearly perceived as temporary. Today’s headlines, as the saying goes, are tomorrow’s fish and chip papers.

While this may encourage inaction, it doesn’t excuse it. GoodCorporation applauds Tesco’s visits to the fields, but their process must become more rigorous. Visits should be unannounced and an effective whistleblower line established to encourage the reporting of such poor labour conditions, allowing people anywhere in the supply-chain to report abuses to the supermarket at the top of the chain.

Supermarkets and other retailers should consider blacklisting suppliers, wholesalers and other intermediaries who allow such labour standards down the supply-chain. This might sound totally obvious, but it does not happen at present.

Supermarkets should also be prepared to give active support for prosecution. We know that loss of future business can act as an effective deterrent, if suppliers, wholesalers and other intermediaries faced debarment if caught for such abuses, it could go a long way towards stamping the practice out.