How Can Your Company Address Modern Slavery? A Pledge Can Help You Figure It Out

 

A new initiative is helping companies analyse, benchmark and refine their anti-slavery efforts in a systematic and confidential way: the Mekong Club’s ‘Business Pledge against Modern Slavery’ (the Pledge).

The Pledge is a free, voluntary initiative that any company can sign up for. It consists of a short statement declaring the corporate community’s recognition that modern slavery is a business issue, and their commitment to step up and address it. But publicly signing up to the Pledge is only the start of a much more comprehensive process.

Companies that sign up for the Pledge agree to undergo a self-assessment that covers various aspects of their antislavery efforts, from awareness raising to risk assessment to capacity building and volunteering. Within each category, companies have to share whether they are already active in certain areas, or what plans they have to cover them in the near future, and score points accordingly. They also agree to have their answers assessed and monitored by the Mekong Club.

This self-assessment aims to be a constructive learning process for companies.

“Companies that are approaching this issue for the first time are looking for guidelines to start their anti-slavery strategies,” said Silvia Mera, program director of the Mekong Club. “They are also looking for standards they can refer to. The Pledge offers them this information. Companies can consider the various options, choose the ones that are most appropriate, and then apply them to their internal processes.”

Individual results are not shared publicly, and, by signing up, companies get free access to the Mekong Club’s expertise and support, with their progress being monitored and compared with those of others in their industry.

“We request that within one year of signing up, each signatory scores a certain number of points in order to remain part of the Pledge,” Mera said. “However, the main goal of this initiative is to engage companies and start a dialogue around the issue. Public benchmarks that rate companies already exist, but they mainly serve to highlight the weaknesses in some companies’ approaches to the issue. We are instead offering support and advice with the goal of driving change. Companies need to understand why the issue matters to them, and how they can have an impact on it. This conversation needs to happen through a confidential exchange – companies are unlikely to engage on such a sensitive issue unless they trust your organisation.”

The self-assessment process has also proved helpful for companies who have to comply with transparency in supply chains laws such as those enforced in California, the United Kingdom, France and soon Australia, as it adds clarity to the daunting exercise of collecting information to include in public statements.

The Mekong Club also involves companies, such as banks and financial services providers, that are not traditionally touched by human rights benchmarks because they are not supply-chain focused. A tailored checklist is available for companies from these sectors.

“A manufacturer would receive a questionnaire where we assess their approach towards recruitment fees and grievance mechanisms, while a financial services provider would be asked whether they incorporate modern slavery risk into their client risk rating methodology or transactions monitoring systems,” added Mera.

The Pledge initiative has already been signed by companies from the manufacturing, retail and banking sectors, including adidas, VF, MGM and A.S. Watson.

Aditi Wanchoo, Senior Manager, Social & Environmental Affairs at adidas, said: “At adidas we have a robust social compliance program for our global supply chain that dates back to the 1990s. To complement our mainstream labour monitoring work, in 2016 we launched our modern slavery outreach program to assess and address potential risks in the upstream supply chain, i.e. those tiers that fall outside the coverage of our social compliance and labour monitoring program.”

“The Mekong Club has been a trusted partner on this journey. We are very proud to be signatories to the Mekong Club’s ‘Business Pledge Against Modern Slavery’ and are committed to working together with industry, governments and civil society partners, so that slavery can be addressed and relegated to where it belongs, in the history books.”

The Mekong Club is a business-driven, independent NGO that engages with multinational corporations through an association – a facilitated platform where businesses can meet, discuss and work on joint projects with the goal of tackling modern slavery. The Pledge stems from an engagement process in which member companies of the Mekong Club expressed a need for a way to assess what the business sector is doing to tackle the issue.

Watch: Business Pledge against Modern Slavery promo video.