Don’t Let Modern Slavery Hide in Your Supply Chain

What Part Can Data Play in Eradicating Slavery?

The past few months have been challenging for companies around the world and the pandemic continues to increase the complexities of doing business. Isolated spikes in cases continue to cause disruption in countries across the world, making it extremely difficult for businesses to plan ahead.

Mapping supply chains has been particularly difficult over the last few months. Major lockdown measures – particularly in China – forced businesses to seek out alternative suppliers. And while we hope that there won’t be worldwide restriction measures on the same scale, regional lockdown is an ever-present threat as authorities work to contain the virus.

Having a diverse supply chain has never been so important. To prepare against sudden closure, savvy organisations are sourcing alternative suppliers they can turn to if there is disruption to one area of their supply chain.

But businesses must also be wary. While working with new and multiple suppliers helps protect against a single source of failure, it may also increase the risk of exposure or links to criminal activity, such as modern slavery and human trafficking.

The business impact of modern slavery

The statistics on modern day slavery make for chilling reading:

  • At any given time, an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery
  • 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children

August 23rd was the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. One of Dun & Bradstreet’s founders, Lewis Tappan, played a pivotal role in the American Missionary Association in 1846, which began more than 100 anti-slavery congregational churches. Fast-forward nearly two centuries and modern slavery is sadly just as prevalent.

Businesses have an ethical responsibility to play a role in the fight against slavery alongside governments and wider society - it’s the right thing to do. But morality aside, there are a whole host of other reasons this needs to be a number one priority for the boardroom, including reputational management and regulatory compliance.

We’re also living in an age where consumer expectations are higher than ever and there is greater scrutiny of how products are sourced and made. Consumers and businesses are now more likely to choose to buy from or work with companies that align to their values. If it’s revealed that a supplier associated with a business is exploiting its workers, this can (and often does) have a serious impact on sales and reputation.

In fact, it’s been suggested that such consumer action against companies linked to slavery costs those implicated £2.6bn a year.

As consumers grow more concerned about how their favourite brands conduct business, the need to scrutinise suppliers becomes ever more important.

Examining the supply chain

A large enterprise can have hundreds of suppliers located all over the world – and those suppliers may have further suppliers, creating a vast web of supply chains.

Considering the scale and complexity involved , supply chain management is not an easy task but essential to protecting a business from financial, legal and reputational risk.

This is where data can help. Data and analytics can be used to develop a detailed risk profile of each supplier and provide much-needed transparency across even the most complex supply chains. This includes everything from the region of operation to the number of people employed and the ownership of the company.

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt by businesses around the world and physical checks are no longer possible, data is a vital tool to help both identify and assess new or alternative suppliers. Having access to comprehensive and accurate data is critical for to effective decision-making and risk management. It’s also important to continually monitor any disruption to the supply chain, be it due to the pandemic or changes in ownership that an impact the level of business risk.

We all have a role to play to help eradicate modern slavery so that it is a thing of the past for future generations – like Lewis Tappan hoped it would be back in 1846.

Every business can do their bit to take responsibility for ensuring that their supply chains are legitimate and ethically operated. COVID-19 does make supply risk management challenging, but through the use of data, businesses can continue their operations and identify any potential exposure to ‘bad actors’ or unethical practices.

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