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How to spot the signs of modern slavery and what action to take

Less than 1 in 5 companies subject to the UK Modern Slavery Act train their entire workforce on modern slavery, according to research conducted by human rights specialists RightsDD. The results underscore the need for human resources directors to take a proactive role in managing their company’s management of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) risk.

The Modern Slavery Act requires approximately sixteen thousand companies to publish a modern slavery statement every year, in which they are obliged to lay out the steps they are taking to tackle modern slavery in their supply chains. The UK Government asks companies to submit their statements to an official register and to confirm what modern slavery training they give employees.

When these submissions were reviewed, they identified that only 17% of companies train their entire workforce. The company estimates that over thirteen thousand companies are failing to train their employees to recognise and understand modern slavery risks.

There are fifty million victims of modern slavery globally, including over one hundred and twenty thousand in the UK. Many of these victims are exploited in the supply chains of businesses. Recent examples of alleged modern slavery in supply chains range from construction workers in the United Kingdom to technicians making bike parts in Malaysia.

Training employees will help fight slavery in supply chains

To help end this abuse, companies need to take action. In addition to the moral and ethical reasons for implementing company-wide training, there are tangible business benefits. Companies that actively work to prevent modern slavery can protect their reputation, attract socially conscious consumers, and enhance their appeal to prospective employees. Moreover, they can safeguard against legal repercussions and financial losses associated with being implicated in modern slavery scandals.

Association with modern slavery can damage a company’s brand and disrupt operations. It can even impact on a company’s share price, for example Boohoo’s stock value nearly halved after alleged labour abuse was identified at its suppliers.

Any person at your company may come into contact with modern slavery. Employees on the shop floor, for example, often work alongside agency workers, who are vulnerable to exploitation. Indeed, the largest ever modern slavery ring convicted in the UK placed their four hundred victims via agencies into farms, recycling centres and factories.

Buyers may also come into contact with victims of slavery when visiting the factories, warehouses or offices of suppliers. Training all employees to understand and recognise modern slavery is one of the most effective measures a company can take to minimise the risk of slavery occurring in an organization and protect reputation.

Human Resources directors must lead on ESG

ESG, under which umbrella modern slavery falls, is a new, complex, and fast changing area. Most staff at most companies have little or no understanding of the topic. It is important therefore that HR directors work proactively to build the workforce’s ESG knowledge. Where a company has a dedicated ESG or sustainability team, HR should work closely with it to ensure that the entire workforce is adequately trained. Where no ESG team exists, HR directors should form or join the company’s ESG committee.

Make your anti-slavery training accessible to all

Human resources teams may be concerned that training an entire workforce is too costly. However, high quality free modern slavery training courses are available. These free courses are often licenced for company wide use and can be downloaded and used on a company’s Learning Management Systems.

At a minimum, anti-slavery training should explain what modern slavery is and how it is relevant to business. The course should identify where risk is highest and give tips to help employees spot the warning signs of abuse. The course should incorporate case studies and provide guidance on how to prevent slavery in the company’s operations and supply chains. If the company has a speak-up facility, its use should be made clear in the training. Critically, the course should help every employee understand why modern slavery matters to your company.

Some employees, including those working in procurement and legal teams, may benefit from enhanced training. Enhanced training should cover more advanced topics, such as how to negotiate and manage relationships with suppliers in such a way as to reduce the risk of workers being exploited.

Staff should receive appropriate training on joining a company. Circumstances change and people forget things, so ideally employees should be re-trained regularly thereafter and preferably on an annual basis.

Poor quality training may do more harm than good and so it’s important that training you provide to staff has been developed by, or with the support of, human rights experts.

ESG training helps develop, motivate and retain talent

Training should be the cornerstone of every company’s anti-slavery strategy. Employees need to be equipped with the knowledge required to spot the warning signs of abuse and told how they should react. Critically, the entire workforce should be trained.

With research showing that employees increasingly want to work for companies with a strong social and environmental conscience, modern slavery training can help develop, motivate and retain talent.

This trend is particularly evident among younger generations, Millennials and Gen Z, who are increasingly prioritising ethical considerations and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance when choosing employers. These employees are more likely to be engaged and productive when they believe their company is making a positive impact on society. By providing comprehensive modern slavery training, companies not only educate their workforce but also demonstrate their commitment to ethical practices and human rights.

In conclusion, the lack of widespread modern slavery training at the majority of companies subject to the UK Modern Slavery Act is a significant gap that needs addressing. By making training accessible and comprehensive, companies can play a crucial role in eradicating modern slavery from their supply chains.

Ultimately, implementing workforce-wide modern slavery training will demonstrate a company’s commitment to ethical practices and corporate social responsibility. It is a proactive measure that helps protect vulnerable people and strengthens a company’s overall integrity and market position.

Research from RightsDD

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