Leadership must prioritize modern slavery: a call to action for businesses

Modern slavery is a critical issue that impacts millions globally, manifesting in forms such as forced labour, debt bondage, human trafficking, and child exploitation. In 2021, an estimated 50 million people were subjected to modern slavery, a stark increase from prior years.

This alarming trend underscores the urgent need for business owners to take decisive action against modern slavery within their operations and supply chains. By demonstrating effective leadership and implementing strategic measures, businesses can play a pivotal role in combating this growing concern.

Understanding Modern Slavery

Modern slavery encompasses a range of exploitative practices that deprive individuals of their freedom and dignity. These practices include:

  • Forced Labour: Compelling individuals to work against their will under threat or coercion.
  • Debt bondage: Forcing individuals to work to repay debts that are often impossible to settle.
  • Human trafficking: Exploiting individuals through coercion, abduction, or fraud for labour or sexual purposes.
  • Exploitation of children: Using children for labour, often in hazardous conditions, depriving them of their childhood and education.

Increasing scrutiny from legislators and stakeholders globally demands that organisations take concrete steps to address modern slavery. Legislation mandates organisations to report on their efforts to prevent slavery in their operations and supply chains but, notwithstanding legislative requirements, it is imperative for organisations to act responsibly and ethically demonstrating their commitment to social responsibility.

Leadership’s Role in Combating Modern Slavery

Leadership plays a pivotal role in the fight against modern slavery. By prioritizing this issue, leaders can set the tone for the entire organisation, fostering a culture of awareness and proactive engagement. Key strategies for leadership to effectively address modern slavery include:

  1. Implementing Policies and Procedures:

Leadership must establish comprehensive policies and procedures to prevent and address modern slavery. This includes conducting thorough risk assessments, due diligence, and continuous monitoring to identify and mitigate risks. Clear policies should outline the organisation’s stance on modern slavery and the steps to be taken when potential cases are identified.

  1. Training and Awareness Programs:

Educating employees at all levels about the signs of modern slavery and how to respond appropriately is crucial. Training programs should be implemented to ensure that staff can recognise indicators such as dishevelled appearance, fear of eye contact, and other abnormal behaviours. Employees should be informed about reporting mechanisms and the importance of taking immediate action if they suspect exploitation.

  1. Engaging Stakeholders:

Leadership should actively engage with stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and partners, to promote transparency and collaboration. Building strong relationships with suppliers and setting clear expectations regarding ethical practices can help ensure compliance throughout the supply chain. Regular communication and collaborative efforts are essential in fostering a culture of accountability and ethical business practices.

Practical Steps for Businesses

To effectively combat modern slavery, organisations should take the following practical steps:

  1. Conduct Thorough Due Diligence:

Organisations must perform rigorous due diligence on their supply chains. This includes financial checks, assessing operational practices, and understanding suppliers’ capacity to address modern slavery risks. Regular audits and assessments help identify vulnerabilities and areas requiring improvement.

  1. Monitor and Review Supply Chains:

Continuous monitoring of supply chains, including subcontractors, is essential. Organisations should implement clear contracts and codes of conduct, requiring suppliers to seek approval before subcontracting and ensuring compliance with modern slavery regulations. Regular reviews and audits help maintain control and accountability.

  1. Foster a Strong Ethical Culture:

A strong ethical culture, driven by leadership, is vital for addressing modern slavery. Leaders should demonstrate a commitment to transparency, accountability, and ethical decision-making. Embedding these values within the organisation creates an environment where employees feel empowered to report concerns and uphold ethical standards.

  1. Leverage Technology:

Utilizing technology to track and measure diversity and ethical metrics can enhance efforts to combat modern slavery. Tools and platforms can help organisations identify areas for improvement, ensure compliance, and hold themselves accountable for progress.

  1. Prioritize Collaboration and Communication:

Collaboration across departments, including procurement, HR, and compliance, is key to addressing modern slavery risks. By fostering open communication and sharing information, organisations can ensure that ethical practices are upheld throughout the supply chain.

Conclusion: Taking Proactive Steps

Modern slavery demands immediate attention and action from organisations worldwide. Leadership must prioritize this issue: implementing robust policies and procedures; training employees; and fostering a culture of transparency and accountability. By conducting thorough due diligence, continuously monitoring supply chains, and engaging stakeholders, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to ethical business practices.

Addressing modern slavery is not only a legal and ethical imperative but also a strategic business priority. By taking proactive steps, businesses can contribute to reducing risks of exploitation and abuse, ensuring that all individuals are treated with dignity and respect. In doing so, organisations not only protect their reputation but also build a sustainable and socially responsible future. Our recent podcast discussion on this topic might be of interest to readers and is available to download here.

Upcoming conference on Modern Slavery with Ardea International and DMH Stallard

We will be co-hosting a modern slavery conference with Ardea International in November 2024 at DMH Stallard’s London offices. The conference will look at the issues around modern slavery and forced labour risk and provide practical solutions to these risks for organisations. This will be a unique platform for thought leaders, industry experts, and change-makers to converge, exchange ideas, and collectively take strides in de-risking their organisations.

For more information please visit the Ardea event page here.


About the authors

about the author img

Debbie Venn


Experienced commercial contracts specialist, skilled in technology, data, IP, travel, manufacturing, wine sectors, and in-house counsel support.
about the author img

Rebecca Thornley-Gibson


Specialist in contract and policy frameworks, employee relations, employment tribunal litigation and senior executive terms and exits.

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