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Let’s open a conversation on research into modern slavery in business supply chains

By Jakub Sobik, Communications Director at the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre.

We need more research to know how to effectively prevent modern slavery in business supply chains. It’s one of the main areas of focus of the newly created Modern Slavery and Human Right Policy and Evidence Centre, which invites business to the table to help make it happen.

We all want business supply chains to be free from exploitation and modern slavery. Businesses are no different. From executives, who want their businesses to be free from risks of such egregious practices tainting its operations, to workers across all tiers who are the ones affected by exploitation, preventing modern slavery is in everyone’s interest in the business community. So, given businesses are obviously key to achieving it, why are we still so far from that aim?

The problem is, we still don’t know how to solve this complex issue in a sustainable way. Raise your hand if you know how to set up an operations of a particular business to prevent exploitation from occurring in the entirety of its supply chain as a matter of course. The issue to solve is hugely complex and requires navigating plenty of conflicting priorities. We need more research on how to do it effectively.

This is one of the main areas of focus for the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC), which has started operation earlier this year. The Centre was created by the investment of public funding to enhance the understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of laws and policies designed to overcome it.

We commission new research (with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council) and aim to translate it into accessible solutions for decision-makers and businesses to transform their responses in a practical and sustainable way.

However, we don’t just want to develop new research in a vacuum. This is why we have carried out a wide-ranging consultation on our research priorities, and it’s important that business have input into our research strategy, so that the new research can meets businesses’ needs.

From the initial consultation, some general areas of research priorities emerged. Firstly, what seems to be most sought after is research showing ‘what works’ – practical solutions in various areas and in different countries that are proven to bring positive results in stopping and preventing exploitation. Secondly, there’s a big need for extensive but easy to access data, allowing decision-makers take informed decisions. The third priority that emerged is justice, equality and survivor inclusion, not only in terms of focus of the new research, but discriminated against groups actually co-developing it.

More specifically for the business supply chain research area, one of the biggest identified needs is research into different business models and their relationship with patterns of exploitation. How can a business model that includes modern slavery practices in its supply chain be acceptable? Many voices raised the need for research into practical solutions and practices for business that are proven to work to reduce exploitation.

Another area that was strongly present throughout the consultation and that is aligned to justice, equality and survivor inclusion priority identified across the board, has been taking workers’ voice seriously and a bottom up approach, focusing on the impact of business practices and policies on the workers in lower tiers of the supply chains.

Collaboration is at the heart of the PEC’s work. We’re about a real impact, but we can only achieve by bringing people together and creating a ‘network of networks’ of people and institutions collaborating to solve this global challenge.

Business is a huge part of that, with a leading role in our endeavour to stop modern slavery across the world. We need to and we want to listen to business’ voice. The next opportunity comes at the roundtable for Business that we’re organising on Wednesday 25 November, where we’re inviting business representatives to provide their feedback on our research priorities. We’ll also present on the first two of our research projects on modern slavery in business supply chains already under way.

There are also plenty of other ways for businesses to get involved in the Modern Slavery PEC’s work. Check out our website first to follow the news on projects, events and call for new research submissions, where you can also sign up tour newsletter so you don’t miss the most important news. There will be many more events and initiatives to come together with professionals from other areas of anti-slavery work, from academics to lawyers to policymakers and NGO workers, like the one we held to mark the Anti-Slavery Day, where over 150 people joined us to develop new collaborations at a networking event. Feel free to join our mailing group too, where you start conversations with peers from all over the world.

Ultimately, we believe that working together, we can create a world where effective policies and practice can protect vulnerable people from being exploited in modern slavery wherever they are and businesses will be able to prevent their own supply chains being tainted by exploitation.

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