Blog post

How can we address modern slavery in supply chain?

More needs to be done to address modern slavery in supply chain, says Maria Adebola Adeseun, a doctoral student in Logistics and Supply Chain at the University of Derby. Her research interest includes Risk and Resilience in supply chain.

By Maria Adebola Adeseun - 21 February 2018

Supply chain discourse over the years has gathered more concern based on its economic implications and the problems that lurk around its effectiveness. Aside from building resilient supply chain frameworks to withstand disruptions, pressing global issues such as modern slavery in supply chain activities now bedevils its operations. Given the fact that slavery is an ancient and barbaric act, the contemporary doesn’t mean the archaic exist no more – and Slavery is simply saying ‘’I have come to stay.’’ That sure sounds like a bragging right, but until we do something about it, this may just be the fate of many in times to come as is the fate of many this very moment.

Slavery has been a curse that has helped shape centuries from time immemorial to this present age, and it surely will do it again. Humanity is at the tipping point between freedom and servitude and slavery has just been given a different kind of push and it has vowed to stay. Feudalism was a period of Serfdom where Serfs (almost equal to slaves) were at the mercy of their Lords, then came Capitalism where labour was exchanged for wages.

Slavery’s chain in supply chain

Regardless of what many around the world may think, slavery, although presently illegal all over the world, it was only criminalised in Mauritania in 2007, has found its way back into society. It simply never left, but transfigured into what many now tag as modern slavery, which operates in several ways, but is not limited or bonded to labour or debt bondage, chattel slavery and forced labour. With a recent rise in illegal emigration, modern slavery has found its way into supply chain networks, giving some industries the opportunity to exploit and take advantage of helpless men, women and children who fled their home country in search of a better life or refuge as a result of civil unrest and other forms of insecurity back home.

According to the 2016 Global Slavery Index Report, an estimated 45.8 million people find themselves in the chains of modern slavery globally, while 58 per cent of those living in slavery are in countries like India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India and Qatar which have the highest proportion of their population in modern slavery. Virtually all these affected individuals constitute as slaves in supply chain activities today.

In the midst of scarce resources, inevitable disruptions in supply chain activities and uneven and unhealthy competition amongst industries, modern slaves are dragooned into producing, gathering and supplying most of the raw materials and end products consumed globally. These help industries involved in this inhuman act break even and maximise profit. These end products or materials could be a sparkling diamond you own which could have been unearthed and produced by child slaves in Sierra Leone, or a piece of fabric manufactured by the slave industry in Nepal or that Tricycle assembled in India – it could be anything we own today but manufactured by people enslaved.

Is the world just watching?

Human trafficking and illegal emigration is not a new discourse. The events that took place during and after the Arab Spring, which began on 17 December 2010 in Tunisia immediately spread to other countries like Egypt, Lybia, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. It created high levels of tension and civil unrest in the Middle East, giving room for violent protests, civil wars and acts of terror, rendering many homeless with no choice but to seek refuge in other countries. As a result, Europe experienced a great influx of multitudes from these Middle East countries in need of work. Some industries immediately capitalised on this situation to the detriment of unsuspecting refugees seeking to make ends meet.

However, with deteriorating situations of modern slavery in Italy and Romania, which according to the Modern Slavery Index (MSI) are reaching their boiling points, Turkey now also seems to be gathering heat as a result of the inflow of people caused by the Syrian war. Coupled with Turkey’s stringent work permits, refugees have no choice but to accept unfavourable working agreements and environments. The Turkish government has done little to address this situation in order to avoid civil unrest from citizens; Italy and Romania seem to follow the same direction based on the MSI reports and the situations of modern slavery is expected to rise in Italy in coming years.

Nevertheless, the Modern Slavery Act proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May, which was passed in 2015, became a trailblazing action towards addressing the modern slavery menace. The law called for all industries in the UK with revenue of £36 million or more to publicise a transparent report on activities surrounding what they are doing to guarantee there is no slavery in their supply chains. But because of supply chain complexity and inevitable circumstances, it has become extremely difficult for UK constituted authorities to effectively enforce this law(s).

Countries like the Philippines, Brazil, Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova and Albania are taking bold moves to react to this issue. Other countries taking the front burner in responding to modern slavery include the United States of America, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Belgium and Norway. However, Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait and Brunei, which requisite resources to address this situation, have taken little or no action to address modern slavery.

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About the author

Maria Adebola Adeseun
PhD Candidate

Maria is a resourceful and detail-oriented researcher with strong analytical background seeking challenging opportunities to utilise her knowledge and skills to achieve organisational objectives and goals. She is flexible and approachable, result and target driven, open to new ideas and adaptable.