How leading companies work to beat forced labour in global supply chains

The Consumer Goods Forum, which brings together the CEOs and senior management of 400 retailers, manufacturers and service providers across 70 countries, has published 12 mini-case studies on how some of its members are tackling forced labour in global supply chains.

The aim of the booklet Business Action Against Forced Labour, published June 20th, is to provide examples of best practice and help inspire other businesses who are trying to address forced labour. Companies contributing case studies are: Marks & Spencer, Mars Incorporated, Metro Group, Migros, Nestlé S.A., Tesco, The Coca-Cola Company, The Colgate-Palmolive Company, The Kellogg Company, The Walt Disney Company, Unilever, and Walmart.

Each case study documents how each is combatting aspects of forced labour, actions taken, and lessons learned.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 21 million people are victims of forced labour of which 11.4 million are women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. Forced labour in the private economy generates $150 billion in illegal profits each year.

The ILO says forced labour can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.

The Consumer Goods Forum has recognised that forced labour is a widespread problem in supply chains globally. In January 2016 the CGF Board announced the first-ever industry commitment on forced labour and followed this up in December 2016 when it set out three Priority Industry Principles that can be used to stop cases that could lead to forced labour in supply chains, these are:

  • Every worker should have freedom of movement;
  • No worker should pay for a job;
  • No worker should be indebted or coerced to work.

As part of its 2017 action plan, CGF members will take individual actions to mainstream the Principles with an initial focus on two supply chains of particular relevance to the industry: palm oil and seafood in Southeast Asia.

The CGF emphasises the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration. Didier Bergeret, Social Sustainability Director at the CGF, said: “The booklet showcases concrete practices led by CGF members to tackle forced labour in global supply chains. By bringing the industry together through activities and tools like this booklet, the CGF can help inspire corporate, governmental and civil society actors to collectively move towards a world that is free of this endemic social problem.”

Further activities by the ILO

On June 2nd the ILO announced it will set up a Global Business Network on Forced Labor and Human Trafficking to help business address the challenges of forced labour and human trafficking in an increasingly complex global setting. The initiative has received seed funding from Mars Incorporated and the U.S. Department of Labor.

The ILO also plans this year to publish new data and research on the extent of global forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly scheduled to open September 12th.

Forced labour is also one of the objectives for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Article 8.7 of the SDGs calls on the world to: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.

Business Action Against Forced Labour can be found here: