Over the past five years human rights issues have been rapidly rising up the CSR agenda. Historically human rights issues were largely ignored by the private sector, with many believing that human rights were a preserve of the State – that is finally changing. On June 16, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the Guiding Principles (GP’s) for Business and Human Rights, making the framework the first corporate human rights responsibility initiative to be endorsed by the United Nations. Crucially the GP’s set out the corporate responsibility to respect human rights. (Access the latest on implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on the Business and Human Rights website here).
Since then business, the media and governments have been focusing on human rights issues and specifically tackling modern day slavery. International Labour Organization statistics reports that slavery exploits 21 million people worldwide and is a 150-billion-dollar industry. The Walk Free Foundation has that figure at closer to 45 million people living in modern slavery, with Asia accounting for two thirds of the victims.
In response to these kinds of stats some governments have responded with legislation. The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act came into effect on January 2012, the UK Modern Slavery Act came into effect on October 2015 and the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act which prohibits imports of goods into the U.S. produced using forced or slave labour, including child labour, came into effect in March 2016. More legislation is coming soon in France, Germany and a number of other countries.
Companies are under scrutiny for their performance in this area as well. The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark , KnowTheChain and the TiscReport are resources for businesses and investors who need to understand, address and report forced labour abuses within their supply chains. This scrutiny is likely to intensify as expectations around performance in this area increases. The examination shifts by industry and has recently focused on: seafood, construction, ICT to country, the World Cup in Qatar, construction workers in Singapore, ICT migrants in Malaysia, cockle pickers in the UK and on companies including Thai Union Frozen, Hitachi and Foxconn. Business can no longer ignore the issues, if your company is not under direct scrutiny now, your clients might be – and that means this pressure is pushed down the supply chain. Progress in this area is lamentably slow, with limited in-house expertise and a reluctance to acknowledge the existence of issues and requirements for action.
We have been advocating for over a decade that mapping and understanding company supply chains has to be a fundamental part of any sustainability strategy. In September at the CSR Asia Summit we have a panel of experts to discuss all of these issues. The session will discuss the changing legislation in the UK and US which has required companies supplying to those markets to publish and report specific information relating to labour and human rights issues amongst others.
The session will also examine approaches from mapping what are often complex supply chains at risk of corruption, inappropriate influence and dominated by long standing relationships. Other areas which will be covered include: due diligence practices, the real practices of codes and audit through to partnership, industry approaches and future solutions.
Join me in Hong Kong at the CSR Asia Summit 2016 in conversation with Balan Shanmuganathan, EHS Senior Director, Seagate Technology , Darian McBain, Global Director of Sustainable Development, Thai Union and Philip Hunter, Programme Director, Verité as we discuss the practicalities of tackling modern day slavery in Asia.