Purpose & Profit: We Mark Anti-Slavery Day with Two Docu-mentaries on the Fight Against Forced Labour Risk

08 October 2020 17:21

forced child labour

Today (18th October) is Anti-Slavery Day. Every year, the day is marked by many charities, campaigners and organisations who want to raise awareness of forced labour and modern slavery and encourage governments and businesses to take action. This year we have produced two mini-documentaries on companies who are helping to reduce forced labour risk in industries with complex and global supply chains: chocolate and fashion.

“100% slave-free chocolate"

The risk of forced labour and modern slavery in the chocolate industry is substantial. The US Labor Department estimates that two million child labourers are involved the production of cocoa. If major companies do not have visibility over their supply chain, they face the risk of being associated with forced labour.

Tony’s Chocolonely was founded in the Netherlands in 2006 by a journalist who wanted to develop change the way the chocolate industry operates and produce “100% slave-free chocolate”. We visited Tony’s Chocolonely at their headquarters in Amsterdam and learned how they root out modern slavery in their supply chain. The measures they take include:

  • Ensuring traceability of the cocoa beans used to make its chocolate and using technology to promote transparency across the stages in its supply chain.
  • Paying a premium price to farmers and working with farmers to provide training to improve productivity, quality and environmentally sustainable practice.
  • Encouraging all chocolate manufacturers, distributors and retailers to join their Open Chain, a partner platform through which they share knowledge, tools, and codes of practice.

Paul Schoenmakers, Head of Impact at Tony’s Chocolonely, told us the key is to understand and get to know your suppliers. “In every chocolate bar that we sell, we know 100% where that cocoa came from because we believe that if you have a direct relation with the cocoa farmers that supply to you, you also become more connected with the problems you have,” he said. Last year, Tony’s Chocolonely came across 268 cases of child labour. “It’s a really good thing because if we have found a problem, we know how to fix it,” Paul said.

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The Rise of Ethical Fashion

Another industry with a higher risk of forced labour risk is fashion . Earlier this year, a report by UNICEF found that forced labour is prevalent in low-skilled employment like cotton picking which takes place at the bottom end of companies’ supply chains. While the British online fashion firm Boohoo came under fire over poor factory working conditions.

How does this happen? “Companies that sell their products in Europe and the US have no clue where the textiles come from,” said Sofie Ovaa of the activist group Stop Child Labour. “Maybe they know their first supplier and there are codes of conduct in place, but further down the chain in the lower tiers it is very difficult to understand where the cotton comes from.”

So, for Episode 2 in our documentary series, we visited Project Cece, which is Europe’s largest search engine for ethical clothing and sustainable fashion. Their mission is to only promote and sell clothes that have been produced ethically. They do due diligence on fashion stores and brands to select those who are committed to the following criteria:

  • Paying fairly and improve the communities in which they are produced with training and other support.
  • Offering good working conditions and labour rights to workers in their supply chain.
  • Using sustainable, non-polluting materials.

Project Cece’s founders said that in addition to reducing risk, doing due diligence on the supply chain will benefit fashion companies in other ways. “These [ethical] brands have such an amazing story that makes you really want to tell that story,” said Project Cece co-founder Noor Veenhoven. “You want to show that a product is so much more than a cool piece of clothing but it has a cool journey and story behind it.”

Purpose & Profit are possible

Understanding your supply chain and reducing forced labour risk is clearly the right thing to do. But it also seems to be the surest way to ensure your business is sustainable in the long-term. In our documentary series, we spoke to experts in business and investment who told us that companies will either fail or thrive based on whether they make the shift towards socially conscious business. Is your organisation ready to meet these ethical expectations—and still satisfy profit-focused stakeholders?

Next Steps:

Find out how Nexis Diligence™ and Nexis® Entity Insight can help companies implement effective risk management processes to address the risk of forced labour.

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