Home Fleetwatch 2020 Tackling the scourge of modern slavery in supply chains

Tackling the scourge of modern slavery in supply chains

Rachel Wu, managing director: Asia at Axis Group International: “Companies are struggling to stay in business and for many, the choice between survival and the moral high ground is a tough one.”

This is a story which took FleetWatch by surprise but is one which we feel important to highlight in terms of awareness for we are very much a part of the global supply chain. It revolves around the role that supply chain professionals must play in fighting modern slavery. Yes, you read correctly – modern slavery in supply chains!

No matter which part of the world you live in or what industry you work in, modern slavery is closer to you, your business and your country than you may think. So says Rachel Wu, managing director: Asia at Axis Group International who recently shared her insights and experiences on modern slavery in supply chains in a webinar hosted by SAPICS (The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management).

Wu contends that the financial strain placed on businesses by the Covid-19 pandemic is creating an environment in which modern slavery in supply chains can continue and even grow.

“The business world’s attention is focused on Covid-19 challenges. Management teams are absorbed with pressing issues related to the pandemic and there are less internal resources being allocated to fighting issues like modern slavery. Companies are struggling to stay in business and for many, the choice between survival and the moral high ground is a tough one. Poverty and burgeoning unemployment rates are also contributing factors,” she says.

Wu says that modern slavery in global supply chains extends beyond the obvious forms of slavery like child labour, human trafficking, servitude and debt bondage, to hidden aspects that include restricting workers’ freedom of movement, labour contracting, unreasonable conditions of work, excessive working hours and unjust wages and social benefits. 

While modern slavery is most prevalent in less developed economies, including Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa – and in less valued-added industries – the risk of modern slavery exists in any global supply chain, Wu stresses. She cited examples in the food, garment and even the aviation industries. 

“Seafood is one of the world’s most important food commodities and the trade continues to grow. Reports indicate that slavery can enter the seafood supply chain at any or every stage. Modern slavery has been uncovered in Thailand and Myanmar’s seafood industries and includes forced labour, child labour, the physical confinement of workers, excessive working hours and other human rights abuses. 

According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), children work at all stages of the supply chain in the fashion industry; from the production of cotton seeds in Benin, harvesting in Uzbekistan, and yarn spinning in India, through to the different phases of putting garments together in factories across Bangladesh.

Wu says that the crisis has been exacerbated by Covid-19. “The impact of Covid-19 has seen orders worth billions of dollars cancelled across manufacturing hubs in China, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia and Myanmar, which could lead retrenched workers to take up exploitative jobs within the industry. Travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have made it difficult for companies to carry out audits to ensure ethical working practices in their supply chains.”

“While some regions, some sectors and some goods are more high-risk than others, every business with global procurement and supply is vulnerable to modern slavery in its supply chains, especially when these are complex and supply chain visibility is a challenge,” Wu states.

If you want to hear more about this subject, Wu’s presentation is on the programme for the upcoming online SAPICS Conference on 23 and 24 November 2020. Her presentation at the 2020 SAPICS Conference will examine the impact of modern slavery in global supply chains and will offer guidance, advice and tools for supply chain professionals to tackle this scourge.

Now in its 42nd year, the annual SAPICS Conference is Africa’s leading education, knowledge sharing and networking event for supply chain professionals. This year, it will be a virtual event on 23 and 24 November 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For further information or to register for SAPICS 2020, call 011 023 6701 or email info@SAPICS.org.za. Information is also posted on the SAPICS website: www.sapics.org.za

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