Unilever, Coca-Cola and Nestlé top anti-slavery efforts

Food and drinks companies need to adapt their policies and practices to better understand the supply chain slavery risks inherent in their sector, a report has said.

In its latest food and drink industry benchmark, campaign organisation Know the Chain put Unilever, Coca-Cola and Nestlé at the top of their list of 20 companies for their efforts to eradicate supply chain slavery.

The report said these companies were “ahead of their peers” but although the food and drinks industry showed a growing awareness and commitment to tackling supply chain slavery, many companies needed to improve their recruitment, purchasing and traceability policies.

The report found buyers’ policies on supplier recruitment was the weakest of all the factors it looked at. “This is particularly concerning given the sector’s dependence on agricultural workers, which are often… most at risk of exploitation,” it said.

It added only seven of the 20 companies it assessed required that suppliers do not charge recruitment fees and only two companies required suppliers to audit recruiters. None of the companies required workers in their supply chain to be directly employed.

The report also highlighted room for improvement in purchasing practices. It said while 15 out of the 20 companies included labour standards in their contracts with suppliers, just five assessed the risk of forced labour carried by suppliers.

None of the companies provided examples of how they mitigated the risk their own purchasing practices carried. The report said using short-term contracts, putting excessive pricing pressure on suppliers and suddenly changing supplier workloads all increased the risk of supply chain slavery.

The report did say most companies had started to trace their supply chains, but said this was often limited to certain tiers of the supply chain or certain high-risk commodities. It said while palm oil was often traced, other high-risk commodities including beans, nuts and seafood were not.

Coinciding with the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day on Tuesday, the Salvation Army has also published statistics on human trafficking in the UK. The charity is responsible for delivery of the government’s Victim’s Care Contract to support adult victims of modern slavery.

Over the five years the charity has been providing services for victims of modern slavery it said it has supported 4,314 individuals, 42% of whom were trafficked for labour exploitation. It said this showed a “five-fold rise… in as many years”.

In August the charity said the number of victims of modern slavery in the UK had more than tripled since 2011.