UK Experts: Major Companies Fail to Disclose Slavery Risks

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On Wednesday, British anti-slavery experts said that some of the top brands of the world including jewellers, cosmetics giants, and confectioners are failing to report risks on slavery and trafficking in their operations and supply chains.

Under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act of Britain, all businesses with more than 36 million pounds ($48 million) of turnover must produce an annual statement that is outlining actions that they have taken to battle slavery in their supply chains.

A watchdog on corporate accountability, CORE, said that a study of 50 big name brands revealed that many statements lacked transparency and were short on detail. Five seemed not to have filed any statement.

According to the International Labour Organization, around 24.9 million people across the globe are in forced labour.

“The level of complacency from major companies, particularly those that trumpet their corporate social responsibility, is startling,” said Marilyn Croser, CORE’s director, in a statement.

“Genuine transparency about the problems is needed, not just more PR.”

The study examined statements from companies that are sourcing raw materials that were linked to labour exploitation, including mined gold, mica from India, Indonesian palm oil and tea from Assam.

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It also examined those that are involved in high-risk sectors such as hotels, construction, clothing, and Premier League football clubs, which are considered to be high-risk partly because of their hospitality and merchandising operations.

Even though child labour and forced labour are rampant in West African cocoa production, CORE said that Mars was the only chocolate company from those studied to acknowledge potential risks in the supply chain.

It said recognised, including Lindt, Sprungli, and failed to give information on their supply chains.

The report said that cosmetics giants, including Estee Lauder and L’Oreal, also failed to mention the risks of slavery that are associated with mica, a sparkly mineral that is used in make-up.

Most mica originates from northeast India where about 20,000 children are estimated to work in various mica mines.

Researchers stated that leading jewellery firms, including Pandora and Tiffany, had also failed to include any information regarding slavery and trafficking risks that are linked to gold-mining, despite estimates suggesting close to a million children work in gold mines.

Pandora informed reporters that it focused as much as possible on making use of recycled gold.

“We take this issue very seriously – 86 percent of our gold is recycled, and 100 percent is certified,” stated the company’s vice president of ethics, Claus Teilman.

None of the other companies mentioned was immediately available for comment.

The report also noted that only one of the five tea companies that were studied related to a region where low wages have been connected to human trafficking on tea estates, the Assam in northeast India.

CORE said that just over 3,000 companies had complied to a September 30 deadline for filing statements under the Modern Slavery Act, indicating that thousands had failed to comply.

It continued that many of the statements in its study do not include a signature by a director who is required by legislation.

However, researchers also noted good examples, praising Lidl, a German discount grocery chain, for reporting a list of factories that are supplying its own-brand footwear and textiles.

Three construction companies – Bovis, Unite Students, and Barratt – also recognised particular risks of modern slavery in the construction sector and their own businesses.

CORE made it clear that it did not directly allege that any of the named companies had human trafficking or slavery in their operations.

But it said that the disappointing quality of many statements suggested that companies were not taking the issue seriously.