Championing the moral global supply chain

Slave LabourMost of us in the civilized world abhor the thought of slavery and would be appalled to think that we are involved in its continuance today in any shape or form. But the truth of the matter is that slave labor is still rife in many places around the world, and it could be a hidden part of many global supply chains.

No teeth – no bite

The problem is that international law lacks the teeth to make its bite effective across global borders, meaning that abused workers, who are employed within these global supply chains, are left without protection. It is therefore the responsibility of the wealthier nations, where most of the biggest corporations are based, to be more vigilant and to take appropriate action.

Slave labor in the Thai shrimping industry

As recently as June 2014 the use of slave labor in the Thai fishing industry was highlighted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper. It reported how workers are forced to work under the threat of severe violence and even death, having been press-ganged into being a part of a global supply chain providing fish foodstuffs for the UK, US, and other European markets.

The investigation, which took 6 months to conduct, revealed how large numbers of men are being bought and sold, and held against their wills, to work on fishing boats that operate in what the Americans refer to as the shrimping industry. The shrimps (referred to in the UK as prawns) end up on the shelves of many supermarkets around the world, including sector leaders such as Carrefour, Costco, Tesco, and Walmart.

The findings of the investigation included proof that Charoen Pokphand Foods (also known as CP Foods) purchases the fish-meal which is used to feed farmed prawns, from sources that own and operate fishing boats that employ slave labor.

Workers who have managed to engineer their own escapes told the newspaper about the terrible working conditions that workers were forced to bear; things like 20 hour shifts, regular beatings, the use of torture, and the enactment of execution-style murders.

The invisible slave labor market

CP Foods has an annual turnover of $33 billion and it its brand portrays the company as being “the kitchen of the world.” Its products include frozen shrimps/prawns and processed meals such as shrimp/prawn stir-fries. The company has admitted that it knows slave labor is used it its global supply chain. They say that they don’t know how deeply it is entrenched, because they simply don’t have the visibility.

But whatever the industry is, the use of slave labor is intolerable. If International law is not up to dealing with the problem, then it is down to the owners and managers of supply chains. It means that vendor assessment has to be far more penetrative. Every aspect of a supply chain needs to come under the inspection spotlight, including all of the peripheral activities and services.

Embracing the moral global supply chain

In the same way that global supply chain managers are beginning to embrace the environment global supply chain, perhaps we should also be looking to create and embrace the moral global supply chain; one in which there is no place for slave labor.

The environmental supply chain movement is gaining more and more momentum thanks in large part to the pressure now being brought to bear by consumers. These same consumers would be just as passionate about the abolition of slave labor, so there is much kudos to be gained by being able to guarantee that a particular global supply chains is both environmentally and morally friendly.

The bigger picture

The thing that makes the moral aspect more difficult to achieve, is the driving force, or lack of. With the environmental global supply chain there is a financial reward in addition to the kudos reward. But with the moral supply chain, there is little beyond the kudos angle. In fact instead of there being a financial reward, there may be a financial loss.

Conducting deeper vendor assessments into all aspects of any global supply chain is going to cost money, and with cost economies being one of the key targets, increased cost is the last thing that many supply chain owners want to consider. So it means that businesses are going to have to look at the bigger picture.

By abolishing slave labor from any global supply chain, businesses would in effect be turning impoverished slave workers into consumers who could afford to join the consumer community. It may not benefit that specific global supply chain directly, but it would create an overall global benefit in terms of increased commodity and product demand.

Just the tip of the iceberg

The Thai shrimping industry is just the tip of the iceberg. Abhorrent practices are employed all over the world and are inherent within many global supply chains.

The global supply chain community champions ethical trading, and with environmental supply chains now beginning to be taken seriously, will champion the environmental and sustainability issues as well. Let’s now bring the spotlight to bear on championing the moral global supply chain too!

What other benefits can be gained from constructing moral global supply chains?  Have your say at the feedback section below

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