Avoiding & Preventing Workforce Exploitation in the Modern Supply Chain

The understanding that the supply chain for almost any business is a global one is generally common knowledge

The understanding that the supply chain for almost any business is a global one is generally common knowledge. Take a walk through almost any manufacturing, assembly, or distribution center and you will find thousands of products that come from justas many suppliers. Indeed, said plant is probably another node in yet another organization’s supply chain.

This wide and international supply chain can pose a number of risks, but one that could be easily overlooked and hard to detect is worker exploitation. Some regulators are introducing new requirements to help combat worker exploitation and are raising the bar for organizations accountability in their supply chains. The UK government is adding new measures to expand the Modern Slavery act, requiring organizations publish a Modern Slavery Statement and to report on steps taken to police worker exploitation in their supply chains.

This begs the question, what should risk management and compliance teams do to ensure that their suppliers maintain an upstanding working condition? The first step would be to recognize the visible signs when visiting with suppliers.

There are many clues that could point to worker exploitation. It is best to look carefully when visiting or interviewing potential suppliers. Some signs can be obvious while others more subtle, making a conscious effort to look for signs of poor working conditions or strange behavior is the key to developing a clear picture of the situation.

Perhaps the most obvious and clear red flags are unsafe working conditions. While clearly dangerous conditions can be easy to hide, there are several things to look for that could point to difficult working situations. Look for suitable accommodations for workers, such as ergonomic workspaces, appropriate areas for breaks and meals, and to keep personal belongings. More subtle signs could be the physical appearance and behavior of workers. Victims may appear disheveled, malnourished, or have injuries. Some may exhibit behavioral signs which can be telling, victims may appear withdrawn or nervous, they may not be allowed to speak or will have someone speak for them.

Another observation may be to what level do workers have freedom of movement. Are workers moving about at their own will or are there escorts or physical barriers preventing non-critical movement. A related question is how are workers behaving in regard to their operations, do they appear to be acting of their own initiative and seem familiar with their environment? Or are they taking direct orders moment by moment and appear to only be concerned with their immediate surroundings and tasks.

While some of these red flags may not signal an issue on its own, each can tell a small part of a larger story. While its reasonable to expect that not all working conditions are 100percent ergonomically optimized, or that personal belongings must be stored in a locker room tucked away in another part of the area, conditions should be reasonably safe and tolerable. it is important to account for such things, as each small observation can be a symptom of a larger issue.


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