Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ignoring modern slavery

The majority of Britain's biggest firms have taken a "tick box" approach to a landmark anti-slavery law, with half providing "no meaningful information" about their actions to stamp out slavery in their supply chains, a survey said. 

Under Britain's 2015 Modern Slavery Act, all businesses with a turnover of more than 36 million pounds ($48 million) must produce an annual statement outlining actions they have taken to combat slavery in their supply chains. The 2015 law was passed in response to revelations that slave labour is being used to produce everything from T-shirts to mobile phones for global consumption.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) only gave 11 out of 100 companies a score of six or more out of 10 for the quality of actions they reported in their modern slavery statement in the six areas suggested by the Act. These include statements on companies' policies in relation to slavery, due diligence in supply chains and staff training. The survey found that 43 companies did not meet the Act's requirement of posting a statement on their website which had been approved by the board and signed by a director.

Police in Britain are ramping up efforts to investigate cases of modern slavery, yet the true scale of the crime is hugely underestimated, Kevin Hyland, the UK's anti-slavery chief said. He was appointed in 2014 as part of Britain's  Modern Slavery Act, called in his second annual report for greater support for slavery victims, and urged businesses to do more to ensure their supply chains are free of forced labour. At least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery - from sexual exploitation to domestic servitude - but police say the figure is the tip of the iceberg.

The report called for a complete reform of the system, including immediate support for victims to stop re-trafficking, training for staff to improve identification of victims, and a focus on long-term care to ensure they can rebuild their lives. "The safety of victims is paramount ... their protection is non-negotiable," Hyland said. "Policies and processes mean nothing if they do not keep the victim at the centre."

Anti-Slavery International welcomed Hyland's decision to put the care and protection of victims at the heart of his report. Yet the organisation was disappointed by the omission of foreign domestic workers, its programme manager for the UK and Europe, Klara Skrivankova, said. "One area that should be improved ... is the situation of overseas domestic workers, whose visa arrangements make their status dependent on their employers, and therefore making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse." 

 Electric vehicles are often labelled the "green cars" of the future but rising demand for the raw materials needed to get them on the road could increase the risk of slavery in their production, according to a risk analysis report. British risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft said electric vehicle makers would need to be careful as they cast a wider net to source raw materials ranging from rubber to aluminium and mica needed for the 30,000 or so components in each car. 
"Increased exposure to human rights abuses, environmental degradation and less-than-savoury governments is, therefore, going to be inevitable as the industry's growth accelerates," Maplecroft researcher Stefan Sabo-Walsh said. Sabo-Walsh said businesses would seek new source countries with reserves of key materials such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, the Philippines and South Africa.

In some countries it was hard to trace if their raw materials came from legal, commercial mines or from illegal smallholder mines where forced and child labour are rife. The risks associated with lithium-ion batteries were of particular concern. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the leading global producer of cobalt used in these batteries, but has faced global criticism for human rights abuses. UNICEF estimates 40,000 children work in the warn-torn central African nation's cobalt mines in dire conditions.

"To maintain their clean, green image, they will need to ensure every individual component required for the manufacture of their vehicles is ethically sourced and as untarnished as a new vehicle rolling off the production line," Sabo-Walsh said.

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