Transparency in supply chains – six months on
Guest blog by Justine Currell, Executive Director, Unseen
Even though we’ve made great strides in passing the Modern Slavery Act and getting in place a ground-breaking transparency in supply chains provision, still far too many organisations are criticising efforts and wanting businesses to fail. There are so many inaccurate comments being made about the transparency legislation, that are unhelpful and increase confusion. We are still in the early days of the legislation with businesses getting to grips with the provision and what it means for them. How can we say now, just six months after the provision was brought into effect, that the legislation is not working or businesses aren’t taking it seriously?
To suggest that businesses are not taking this issue seriously because only a relatively small proportion of statements have been published to date is simply misleading and extremely unhelpful. The legislation does not prescribe a time period within which a business needs to publish a statement, simply that a business must publish a statement for each financial year. The fact that the statement is tied into the financial year of an organisation means that it will be a further 12-18 months before we can really assess how many businesses have produced statements and therefore complied with the legislation. Surely our key aim is to increase understanding and awareness of modern slavery and support business to tackle the issue head on rather than belittling efforts or the steps taken.
And those steps are all the steps taken, positive or negative. They’re not prescribed or dictated by the legislation, although the legislation sets out a number of approaches that businesses may choose to take. It’s for each individual business to decide what steps they need to take, based on the sector they work in, the complexity of their supply chains and their organisation. It’s not simply about auditing the whole of the supply chain – auditing has its place, but in isolation can prove problematic. It’s about taking realistic, proportionate steps working collaboratively with suppliers and those they do business with. The fluidity of the legislation is a big positive because businesses are not being asked to perform a tick box exercise, they are simply being asked to explain what they have done.
We must allow businesses to grow their response organically and strengthen their response over time. The UK has started an ambitious programme to change corporate behaviour by putting the issue of modern slavery firmly into the boardroom. Businesses need the time to assess where they are and how they can improve so that they can consider the incremental steps they need to take. It’s certainly not about ranking businesses from the outset when businesses from diverse sectors are at completely different starting points. This is simply counterproductive and will undoubtedly drive the wrong kind of behaviour. That is why www.tiscreport.org supports businesses. It’s the only central registry and open data initiative, for business and backed by business. With over 1800 statements already available, TISC report is leading the way on transparency and collaboration, working directly with businesses in a proactive and positive way. Don’t be fooled by clunky scraping models that simply pick up any reference to a modern slavery statement and then suggest the statement is being ‘filed’. We need to work with business and help them to improve and strengthen their resilience and their response. If they fail to improve over time, I have no doubt that we will all be knocking on their doors demanding more.