Modern slavery

Source: Getty Images

The new toolkit provides small businesses with guidance on how to tackle labour issues in their supply chains

Small businesses are getting further support to tackle modern slavery across their supply chains.

Amid growing concerns that labour exploitation is increasingly permeating supply chains in the UK and abroad, charity group Tribe Freedom Foundation has launched a new toolkit to help SMEs identify and address potential modern slavery issues in different areas of their business.

The ‘Foodies Fighting Slavery’ toolkit provides step-by-step guides and risk assessment resources that smaller businesses can follow and implement throughout their supplier base to mitigate labour and human rights exploitation.

Its launch follows a Tribe survey of UK SMEs that showed only 42% had a modern slavery policy, and the vast majority of employees at those companies had never completed any form of training or been given any resources on how to address the risks of modern slavery.

The toolkit was designed in collaboration with the government’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and charities Stronger Together and Stop the Traffik. It is backed by all the major supermarkets including Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Labour agencies to face supermarket scrutiny over exploitation claims

“Lots of SMEs are committed to doing the right thing and having a positive social impact,” said Tribe co-founder Tom Stancliffe.

“However, the challenge is that SMEs – which make up 97% of the food and drink industry – often lack the capacity or knowhow to actively fight modern slavery in their supply chain and operations. This toolkit gives SMEs the tools to take the first steps to fight slavery.”

The goal is for retailers to work with their suppliers to encourage them to complete all actions in the toolkit, with the next step being “ensuring it becomes a kind of compulsory element of retailer boarding as well”, Stancliffe said.

There have been increasing reports of labour and human rights exploitation taking place across UK supply chains, particularly linked to the influx in Asian farm workers via the government’s seasonal workers scheme.

Other areas of the supply chain such as food manufacturing have also proven problematic in the past.

Two arrested over modern slavery suspicions on West Sussex farm

Former independent anti-slavery commissioner Dame Sara Thornton, who was involved in the development of the guide while still in her role – which she quit in early 2022 – said: “It is estimated there are nearly 28 million people in forced labour across the globe and many supply chains are tainted.

“I appreciate that for SMEs it is challenging to understand what is happening at the end of lengthy global supply chains – they cannot rely on sustainability teams in the way that large companies do, but neither do they want to purchase ingredients made with forced labour.

“This guide will be invaluable for them and uses the simple model of commit, assess and act, taking best practices from leaders in the sector.”