Over the weekend it was discovered that the ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirts produced by Whistles and worn by celebrities and politicians were reportedly manufactured by women working in poor conditions and receiving a pittance for their labour. It is a stark example of the fact that nobody – not even Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband – is asking the question ‘where do our clothes come from?’
In the CSJ’s report into modern slavery, we discovered that many companies have very little idea of what takes place in their own supply chains. Global business networks and complex supply chains have led to a state of affairs where ignorance is bliss and ‘ask no questions’ is the approach. We were shocked to find one case of modern slavery where workers on British farms were kept in slave-like conditions and forced to gather eggs to be supplied to M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda. Were any of these companies aware this was happening? No.
This is why we were pleased to hear that the Government has decided to take on the CSJ’s recommendation to include in the new Modern Slavery Bill a clause to improve the transparency of business supply chains. It is important that the Government consults on exactly what format this clause should take. A transparency clause would present a critical opportunity to tip the balance in favour of vulnerable workers and against individuals that seek to exploit them. The clause should require businesses in the UK to provide information on efforts they are making to ensure their supply chains are free of slavery. And crucially, it should make it very clear who is responsible if and when cases of modern slavery and exploitation are discovered.
As a result, we – the customers – should make the most of this more readily-available information. We need to begin asking questions of the companies we buy from, leading to a ‘race to the top’ for businesses who compete to be the most transparent and most ethical. Consumers have a lot of power when they begin to ask questions. I invite Mr Clegg and Mr Miliband to lead the charge.