What's the problem?
Global supply chains are by their nature, complex and concealed, so it comes as no surprise that unethical behaviour within them is common. Today's statistics on modern day slavery within supply chains are appalling and sadly at a level unprecedented across history.
Modern day slavery is at the worst end of the spectrum of unethical behaviour within supply chains and estimates of the number of workers trapped in these conditions are, inevitably, sketchy. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), an arm of the UN, puts the global total at around 21m, with 5m in the sex trade and 9m having migrated for work, either within their own countries or across borders. Around half are thought to be in India, many working in brick kilns, quarries or the clothing trade. Bonded labour is also common in parts of China, Pakistan, Russia and Uzbekistan—and rife in Thailand’s seafood industry. A recent investigation by Verité, an NGO, found that a quarter of all workers in Malaysia’s electronics industry were in forced labour.
And developed countries are not immune either. Modern slavery is a resilient, complex scourge that blights almost every country on earth. In early 2015, plaintiffs in the largest human-trafficking case ever brought in America were awarded $14m in damages. Read more here.
However, the issue of supply chains has hit the spotlight in recent years and many companies are now doing a better job of auditing their global operations and working environments. Independent, audited certifications addressing human rights and environmental factors of production are now recognised by consumers, high profile global leaders are raising the issue, protocols and laws are being passed by countries and industries and multinationals are being forced by consumers to address the issue.
Consumers today are becoming better educated about overseas working conditions, and the unfair treatment of workers can seriously harm sales and brand identity. The public's growing awareness of environmental issues also puts pressure on companies to build more sustainable supply chains.
Change takes time, but it also takes action. As a consumer, there are many small actions we can take that will help put an end to modern day slavery and other unethical behaviour within global supply chains. As our world gets smaller at the hands of globalisation, it is possible to find out more about the people who make the products that we consume, and the internet and new global technologies has made it even easier to share that information with others, so that we can change our world for the better.