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Trust Conference: Key notes from the panel ‘The role of Business in eradicating Forced Labour’

It is taking place in London one of the most emblematic events of the year to tackle Modern Slavery: the Trust conference, an initiative by Thomas Reuters Foundation. Yesterday 15th was the day dedicated to human trafficking and slavery. Today,16th is dedicated to empowering women. You can follow the conference through live video here. The two-day conference works as a common space where global corporations, lawyers, government representatives, and people addressing in any way modern slavery get together to discuss real solutions. The fact is that more than 40 million people are estimated to live and work under slavery conditions, including forced marriage.

The panel ‘The Role of Business in Eradicating Forced Labour’ moderated by the Chief Executive of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, John Morrison, has deeply addressed the important role that businesses and global corporations have to play into tracking modern slavery within their supply chains.

John Morrison made an introduction naming “four different levels” within the work of reporting modern slavery. First, the identification of companies that take actions and those do not. Second, the ways that labour slavery interconnect. Third, the situations of minority groups. Fourth, the way that supply chains work. His final mark was for the recognition of the important role that the UN Guiding Principles in Business and Human Rights plays in terms of responsibility distribution.

Paula Pyers, Head of the Supplier Responsibility in Apple-USA, was the first panellist to open the discussion. She explained the efforts that Apple has been making to evaluate modern slavery and child labour within their supply chains since 2008. She highlighted that “only with a good understanding of your supply chain, you can prevent”. Their pilot programs launched in 2008 were developed to the point that in 2016 more than 700 assessments preventing modern slavery were used around the World. The assessment’s approach, as she described, is towards the development of capacity building. She mentioned that the standards changed in 2015 and Apple designed a “Zero fees, Zero tolerance” program protection, meaning that subsidiaries do not tolerate situations of modern slavery and they do not charge money to their employees for working. She assured that Apple follows a very serious methodology of pre-assessments, assessments and post-assessments.

Jan Saumweber, Senior Vice President of the Responsible Sourcing in Walmart-USA, was the second panellist. She described to the audiences how Walmart works mainly with industries and supply chains, for instance, with the training for managers. She explained a work partnership methodology carried out together with NGOs and the Thailand Government. Finally, she ended mentioning the platform “Golden Dreams” that Walmart is currently developing with NGOs and Government institutions, where employees can socialise and create ‘rankings’ among their employers.

Cathy Pieters, Director in Cocoa Life Program in Mondelez International-Switzerland was the third panellist. She highlighted that it was her first time intervening in the Trust Conference. Mondelez International brands are very famous all around the World. Some examples are Milka, Philadelphia or Cadbury. She is the Director of what she referred as the ‘Cocoa sustainability program’. She recognised during her intervention that investors call her asking about the policies and risks' measures in human rights that the company exercises. She started illustrating how the issues that farmers are currently facing are interconnected. These issues are climate change, child labour or poverty, among others. As a consequence, the approach to tackle modern slavery and child labour by Mondelez International is relying in partnerships with NGOs to create capacity building. She guaranteed that Mondelez believes that a community approach together with prevention and monitoring are key aspects to tackle this issue. Finally, she stressed that customers play an important role in the company philosophy because they “expect authenticity” from the company.

Prof. Booby Banerjee was the last panellist in the discussion. He is Professor of Management and Director of the Executive PhD Program at Cass Business School in the City University of London in UK. He started saying that modern slavery is a failure from the whole system. A failure from governments, companies and civil society. He also described modern slavery as a natural outcome of the economic system we live today. After more than 25 years studying and researching Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), he came up with the conclusion that the value, in all terms of the word, of the CSR goes to Corporations. ´Too much goes to the C and not enough to S and R’, he said at the beginning of his intervention. He also encouraged the audience to make an online test. This test studies your own behaviour as a costumer in order to estimate how many slaves are currently working for you. You can check by yourself here:

Final remarks advocated for partnership as a key, a better way of monitoring, better accountability mechanisms through all operators, and the importance of remediation.

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