Some 240 delegates from nearly 30 countries joined this year’s Sustainable Retail Summit, held in Paris on 27th & 28th October. The event delivered on its promise to inspire and inform, leaving participants equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to implement sustainable business practices in their organisations and drive positive change across the industry. The conference brought together thought leaders from business, government and civil society and was a unique education and networking opportunity for all those in attendance.
Forced labour was one of the three core themes of this year’s summit, with two sessions focused exclusively on the topic. The summaries of these sessions can be found below and have been taken from the Sustainable Retail Summit Executive Summary.
Megatrend: Forced Labour
Hans Docter, Special Ambassador for Private Cooperation, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Houtan Homayounpour, Technical Specialist on Forced Labour, International Labour Organization; Hubert Weber, Executive Vice President and President, Mondelēz Europe; Rachel Wilshaw, Ethical Trade Manager Private Sector Team, Oxfam GB
Hubert Weber kicked off this session by stressing the importance of the consumer goods industry in the fight against forced labour. Hubert raised the question he has been striving to address in Mondelēz: how can global companies like Mondelēz influence conditions in environments far upstream from their operations? These remote corners of global supply chains are often where forced labour hides. Hubert emphasised that collaboration with other companies, industry bodies, governments and other organisations such as Anti-Slavery International and the CGF is a key component in being successful in this influence to drive positive change and ultimately eradicate forced labour. Despite the clear challenges that lie ahead, Hubert is optimistic stating he sees a shift in mindset when it comes to company approaches to forced labour, a shift away from compliance led approaches to a culture of continuous improvement that ultimately demonstrates real progress on the ground.
Hans Docter also underlined Hubert’s comments of how vital cross-sectoral collaboration is in the success of eliminating forced labour from our world, sharing experiences of said collaboration in initiatives to eliminate child labour in Ghana. Next, Houtan Homayounpour gave some very sobering statistics on the prevalence of forced labour today. Currently, 21 million individuals are victims of forced labour with 14 million coming from the private sector. Although the highest number of modern day slaves are located in Asia, a surprising data point Houtan highlighted was that Central and Southern Europe actually have the highest rate of individuals in forced labour per 1,000 people– 4.2 of every 1,000.
After the private sector, public sector and organisational view, Rachel Wilshaw gave the NGO perspective on the topic. Rachel reemphasised the need to go beyond audits, given the complex root causes and hidden nature of forced labour.
Following the individual speeches from each of the four panellists, Tom Heap, the SRS moderator, led a panel discussion during which some interesting questions were posed and answered. One audience member asked if there were parallels between identifying child labour and identifying forced labour. All four panellists agreed that forced labour is often hidden and therefore may be more difficult to spot than child labour. This only further underlined the need to view audits and compliance as one piece of the puzzle in eliminating forced labour, but not as the entire solution. Houtan added that forced labour has diverse root causes, poverty is of course often a key cause, but not the only one. In line with these causes therefore, solutions need to be equally as diverse, robust and include participation from consumers, governments and organisations.
Forced Labour Workshop
Dante Pesce, Member of the UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights; Corinne Adam, Founder and President, Corinne Adam Consulting Services Inc.; Dr Yogendra Chaudhry, VP, ECO Canada; Cindy Berman, Head of Knowledge & Learning, Ethical Trade initiative;Ted van der Put, Executive Board Member IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative; Mark Taylor, Director, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Issara Institute
Dante Pesce opened the workshop providing an overview of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and their importance and relevance for company action on forced labour. The Principles put the onus on governments’ duty to protect against human rights abuses, for corporate responsibility to respect them and for greater access to effective remedies by victims of human rights abuses. A core tenet of these principles is that of “do no harm” achieved through effective due diligence starting with a policy commitment to human rights at a senior level. Dante concluded that the UN Working Group’s ambition is to speed up and scale up implementation of the Guiding Principles, and this can be strongly supported by industry associations such as the CGF drawing together individual companies for collective action.
Corinne Adam and Dr Yogendra Chaudhry built on Day 1 discussions, explaining why forced labour is so difficult to identify and address: mainly due to its hidden nature, often very upstream in supply chains where it is not easy to detect. Yogendra illustrated some prominent drivers of forced labour while Corinne went on to explain how the CGF benchmarking platform, the GSCP Equivalence Process, can be a valuable tool in ensuring that requirements for forced labour are clearly spelt out and integrated into suppliers’ requirements. Whilst auditing alone is not the solution to tackling forced labour, it is still a key part of the journey to help ensure that certain safeguards are in place to help prevent it happening.
Cindy Berman presented ETI’s approach in helping companies prevent and identify forced labour in their supply chains which goes beyond traditional audit-led approaches. As one example, she drew on their experience in the spinning mills of Tamil Nadu, southern India, where ETI worked closely with local NGOs, the factories and suppliers to build relationships, capacity and trust to begin worker dialogue and improve conditions in the mills notably on pay. Cindy emphasised that there is no one tool or platform that will solve forced labour and success must be achieved through a variety of methods.
Ted van der Put shared his insights on how IDH is supporting organisations on the ground to tackle human rights issues in global supply chains, notably with support to organisations such as the Issara Institute, which works directly with local communities throughout the supply chains of private sector partners. As explained by Mark Taylor, Issara’s initial focus has been on tackling forced labour in the shrimp sector. The model they have developed has been found to be very successful, easily scalable and replicable to other sectors and regions.
The session wrapped up with a solution-oriented discussion on tackling forced labour, highlighting that “name and fame” is the way forward to encourage more companies to be transparent in their efforts to eliminate forced labour, and improve working conditions at large.
Kevin Hyland, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner; Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations; Aymeric Marmorat, CEO, Enactus France; Alexandre Durand, Student entrepreneur; Élise Lacave, Student in Biology and data processing Master degree; Sébastien Grondin, Student in Biology and data processing Master degree; Conrad Young, Managing Director, Food Fw; Adjiedj Bakas, Trendwatcher, Author and Speaker
Please note the following exerpt only shows Kevin Hyland's presentation summary:
The session began with Kevin Hyland giving a sobering yet inspiring speech on forced labour, stressing that it is one of the most pressing social issues of our time. He described the practice as theft, deception, abuse and ultimately an endemic crime that must be eliminated. Kevin emphasised that as a global society we must move away from profit being the number one indicator of success: the treatment of others and respecting human rights need to be top priority as well. The Commissioner then highlighted key successes in the fight against forced labour, such as the inclusion of modern slavery in the Sustainable Development Goals, but stressed there is much more work to be done and we must shift away from a compliance only approach to truly make a difference.