Sub-Committee on the Work of ICAI
The UK’s approach to tackling modern slavery through the aid programme: Review from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact
29th June 2021
Written Evidence: Elaine Mitchel-Hill, Business & Human Rights Director, Marshalls plc
Introduction: Marshalls plc is the UK’s leading construction products and materials organisation serving both commercial and domestic markets. I am Marshalls’ Business & Human Rights Director responsible for our modern slavery activity and our wider human rights approach throughout our global supply chain. We have a long history regarding business and human rights dating back to 2005, addressing challenging issues such as bonded labour, child labour and prison labour in the natural stone sector. I have worked with the organisation since 2005. Please find attached our new 2021 Modern Slavery Statement, which will be published later this week.
I was involved in the ICAI consultation process early last year, and have paid keen interest to the report itself and the Government’s initial response. Indeed, I reached out to Lord Ahmad at the time of the Government’s response to register my concern over the partial acceptance of recommendation 5, and welcomed his personal response.
I sit on the UNGC UK Advisory Committee and two of its working groups on modern slavery and child labour; am an active member of the ILO Child Labour Platform. I work as a committee member of the global Social Responsibility Alliance – responsible for the open source Slavery & Trafficking Risk Template – and am working as part of the UK Government funded PACE Consortium, regarding Effective Approaches to Ending the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Fragile contexts, where I co-developed an investor intervention which is currently under way. I co-chair the construction, labour and transport sub-group of the UK’s Modern Slavery Training Delivery Group, and sit on the advisory panel for CCLA’s investor initiative, Find it, Fix it, Prevent it. As such, I am deeply engaged with the private sector, both nationally and internationally, and understand the challenges and complexities. I would add that, pre-pandemic, much of my time was spent on-the-ground in sourcing countries in the supply chains and surrounding communities, where I intend to return as soon as it is safe to do so.
For transparency, I am a trustee of Traffik Analysis Hub www.traffikanalysis.org and also SV2 SV2 - Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence - Home.
1. What is your view on ICAI’s review and the Government response?
I see that Recommendation 5 was only partially accepted, which is a concern. I understand
that it is the Government’s intention to publish a statement in 2021 ‘to explain better our international modern slavery objectives’. I very much look forward to this, and in advance share below – within my responses - the grass roots challenges we have experienced, and
where I believe private sector efforts would benefit significantly from increased appropriate UK Government engagement.
2. What action do you think the UK Government should be taking to improve its work in relation to modern slavery?
The UK should adopt a mandatory human rights due diligence approach which mirrors that which will come into place in Europe. This will help create a more level playing-field; there is currently no commercial advantage for organisations ‘doing the right thing’ which simply cannot be allow to continue. This makes it impossible to get the traction necessary for positive change in many supply chain, regions and geographies. It ultimately feeds the inertia which is experienced by the private sector when pressing for change and engagement in sourcing countries.
Create a clear link between government/local authority spend/procurement and supplier human rights due diligence – such as that done by Dutch & Flemish Government in relation to natural stone and other products - TruStone Initiative | Agreements on International Responsible Business Conduct (imvoconvenanten.nl)
Local Authority engagement and reporting on Section 54 will hopefully go some way to pressing for greater engagement by key overseas supply chains, but a directive from Government to only source from those suppliers who are able to ‘know’ and ‘show’ – as outlined by Prof John Ruggie, the architect and author of the UN Guiding Principles for Business & Human Rights Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights: Implementing
The private sector often has the same suppliers as Government, but has long been making greater demands regarding ethics, human rights and modern slavery, etc, in order to deliver on our modern slavery commitments and Section 54 reporting. This can sometimes put us at a disadvantage when pressing for change, i.e. it is easier for suppliers to service a customer not making ethical demands than to work with one that is.
Firmly link overseas aid with private sector efforts to address modern slavery – providing countries receiving UK aid with the motivation to address root causes; such as the non- implementation of the rule of law, lack of social protection, etc. By engaging and aligning the agenda with the private sector, efforts can be multiplied.
Considering the introduction of goods sanctions, such as those used in the US where goods believed to be tainted by forced labour/child labour are subject to ‘withhold release orders’.
Dialogue with the private sector regarding the overseas aid programme is a must. Many in the private sector have a wealth of information, insights, advanced supply chain mapping and research which would help to illuminate issues further. Of those highly engaged organisations working in this space, very few are clear on the UK’s overseas aid programme and how they could align their efforts in support of it. There is also a requirement, and an opportunity, for government dialogue with the private sector aimed at calibrating the way in which SDG contribution is currently being reported by corporates; namely in a wholly positive light. Little to no attention is yet being paid to any significant downsides of alleged positive contribution. Dialogue at this important juncture could allow for a recalibration and more effective contribution in support of government efforts in this regard. It would also help to steer the ESG agenda in the right direction at a key point where the ‘S’ is being considered by many stakeholders in terms of how to account for and measure activity.
Make it easier for engaged private sector organisations to connect with overseas embassies in sourcing counties. It is often difficult to connect with embassies, to understand their role and agenda regarding modern slavery, and to know whether they wish to engage with the private sector. There seems little opportunity for businesses to connect
and no easy way to do it. Where we have had engagement with British Embassies – in Hanoi, Rajasthan, Chennai – I have sought them out and this has been a slow process overall. Once a relationship was established discussions have been extremely useful, but could be even more so. Aligning overseas aid with private sector efforts to address modern slavery would seem the perfect point at which to reconsider how embassies and UK companies could work better together for maximum impact.
The points that I share here have little to do with additional money, but more to do with engagement, dialogue, communication, sharing, understanding and aligned action. I sit on various panels and advisory boards and therefore know that leading businesses are grappling with these issues and would benefit hugely from UK Government engagement.
3. The Government says that modern slavery is integrated and mainstreamed into larger number of major aid programmes. Do you agree?
There is little understanding of the UK Government’s overseas aid agenda by the private sector as a whole. This makes it impossible to understand it or align efforts in support of it, which would seem a lost opportunity.
The private sector continues to pour substantial amounts of money into various initiatives globally, many of which are working in opposition to overseas government efforts to combat issues of modern slavery. I have heard recently directly from government officials in both the DRC and in India who are exasperated at ill-conceived private sector funded initiatives. This presents an opportunity for UK Government and the private sector to open a dialogue aimed at aligning efforts, and holds the potential for multiplying impact, and all without any additional spend.
4. Since ICAI’s review, it has been announced that there will be an overall reduction to the UK aid budget. How do you think this impact will work on tackling modern slavery?
If this overall reduction in aid drives the NGO community to engage more meaningfully with the private sector as partners in tackling modern slavery, and the Government engages fully with the private sector to align efforts with their activity to address modern slavery in global supply chains, then it is possible that actions could be more effective, progress could be accelerated and efforts multiplied.
Many businesses would like the opportunity to discuss these issues and potential solutions. I would be happy to convene a group of high level engaged peers to help move this agenda forward if it is thought that this would be helpful.
5. How should aid donors, such as the UK, work better with the private sector to tackle modern slavery?
There is little understanding of the UK Government’s overseas aid agenda by the private sector as a whole. This makes it impossible to work in support of it, which would seem a lost opportunity.
Whilst the IASC is doing excellent work and focusing mainly on the UK, the overseas dimension does not have a counterpart. Greater understanding by, and a clear point of contact for, the private sector would help ensure that any overseas aid budget with a
modern slavery dimension can be potentially underpinned, supported and maximised by UK private sector efforts.
Often, even the largest companies do not have the traction or financial clout that you may imagine. The private sector would benefit from UK government as a facilitator to their modern slavery efforts; to add weight where we have none, or very little, where the domestic market is bigger than the export market for example.
The modern slavery agenda has huge implications for human security. The private sector has a clear role to play as a result of the drive for decent work and economic growth. This clearly aligns with the UN Business for Peace agenda, and following my own initial discussions with the MOD, I am sure that a broader discussion with the private sector would bear fruit.
6. How do you feel the FCDO can improve its evidence gathering and research on modern slavery?
Engage with the private sector and ask them to share the research that they commission. Facilitate more and further reaching conversations between those the private sector and those commissioning research and gathering evidence.
I feel strongly that the UK Government should engage fully and enthusiastically with global big data projects, such as Traffik Analysis Hub (TAH) which holds global data on instances of modern slavery and human trafficking from multiple sources/partners. This information provides the opportunity for advanced supply chain mapping which informs action. I have been working with the chief architect at TAH to develop an advanced supply chain mapping tool specifically for the private sector. I would welcome the opportunity to share it with UK Government, as we have with the DOL in the US.
7. Can you tell us about your organsiation’s approach to addressing modern slavery?
Marshalls has always engaged with the ‘spirit of the act’ rather than just the ‘letter of the
law’ regarding modern slavery. We have been engaged with human rights within our supply chain since 2005. We welcomed the introduction of the UK Modern Slavery Act and each year since its introduction we have published an annual statement, as well as report detailing our multifaceted approach to understanding risk within our supply chain, and our End Modern Slavery Report which gives more detail regarding our work both in the UK and overseas. Modern Slavery Library | Sustainability | Marshalls
Most recently, on the 16th of June, our CEO, Martyn Coffey, stood alongside the CEOs of Coca Cola, Ferrero and Louis Dreyfus at the UN Leaders Summit session on Human Rights & Labour Principles - Human Rights & Labour Principles: A Business Imperative - YouTube
A few days earlier on the 10th of June, he spoke at the ILO World Day Against Child Labour, where he answered a question posed by Amar Lal, a former child labourer in the Indian sandstone sector in Rajasthan - https://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/109/live-coverage/lang-- en/index.htm#event/world-day-against-child-labour
Five days after this extraordinary connection between Amar and Martyn, the ILO Child Labour Platform facilitated a CEO/Youth Advocate more detailed and relaxed conversation during which both focused upon possible solutions regarding the rise in child labour in India, in the wake of the new global estimates which show the first rise in two decades, from 152m
to 160m. These figures do not include the pandemic period and as such the reality looks to be considerably worse.
I share this so that you are aware of the level of our commitment and our willingness to work in new and collaborative ways. Our 2021 Modern Slavery Statement and supporting annual Risk Analysis Report and End Modern Slavery Report make clear our commitment, actions and effectiveness. They also make clear how we have enhanced our own systems and processes, and sought to leverage our own operations and value chain to contribute to the eradication of modern slavery.
The global pandemic has proved to be both a tipping point for the human rights agenda within the private sector, and also an acid test; it is up-front-and-centre on the Board table and has focused attention upon the ‘S’ in ESG. The ESG agenda is more clearly than ever in sharp focus. For myself, and for many of my peers, this is a time to accelerate progress both within our respective organisations – gaining the commitment, time and resources to dive faster and harder – and also to engage with partners and collaborators in new and innovative ways. It is the perfect time for UK Government to engage with the private sector, to multiply efforts and accelerate progress.
8. The Sub-Committee heard concerns regarding the Indo-Pacific tilt arising from the Integrated Review, specifically that modern slavery issues in that region largely relate to supply chains. What is your experience of the prevalence of modern slavery in the Indo-Pacific region?
With key suppliers in India, China and Vietnam, all of whom we consider to be high risk from a human rights due diligence perspective, we have considerable experience of working to understand the issues and root causes, working with suppliers to engage them, monitoring, auditing, observing and doing all that we can to identify instances of slavery, remediation, and more besides.
We are clear that modern slavery everywhere is about money and is linked to criminal activity. In asking businesses to address modern slavery throughout their supply chains, it is inevitable that if the context in which that supply chain/sector/country is set has significant issues which are systemic, then the impact of business can only reach so far. The issue of modern slavery in supply chains, and the way in which it presents, is symptomatic of the political and social context.
My own experience is that as legislation has increased, as corporate drivers/appetite to
‘know’ and ‘show’ has likewise increased, so my role is increasingly seen by other actors as that of a ‘human rights defender’. As such my presence seems to ‘unsettle’ or ‘threaten’ certain actors when I travel to some of our supply chains, and the wider sector, i.e. where
there is criminal activity at play, where the sector is largely informal, the nexus of formal and informal parts of the supply chains, state sponsored corruption is an opaque possibility, etc. It has been necessary for me to undertake additional hostile environment training. By way of an example, increasingly when travelling to our supply chain in Vietnam, I am followed by the local law enforcement who will also come un-invited into meetings of which I am a part, and also sit outside my hotel, etc.
Each sourcing country, and often specific regions within those countries, presents its own distinct issues, risks and challenges. The salient risks for us in India is bonded labour and child labour, in China it is forced labour, and in Vietnam it is the use of prison (detention
centre) labour. The root causes of these issues are complex and different in each case, and far beyond the reach of the private sector to address alone, or safely. It is in these places that greater government engagement with the private sector would have a significant impact.
If I can give a more concrete example of where Marshalls would appreciate UK Government engagement. We have worked India for over 16 years on the issues of child labour and its root causes. We brought the issue to global attention in 2006/7 and have worked in multiple ways to engage and address; some have been successful and some have not. We have sought to make a positive contribution and to facilitate progress. Regardless of our efforts, the drag effect of India’s own domestic market for sandstone – 95% of the sandstone taken out of the ground stays in India – makes it near impossible to effect change. The sector is largely informal, there are no demands within the Indian domestic market regarding responsible sourcing and it is questionable whether enough pressure can be exerted by global buyers in their entirety. I understand from engagement with the British High Commission in Rajasthan that the Rajasthan Government has plans to increasingly formalise the sector. Linking overseas aid, together with private sector efforts, in this context would seem to present the opportunity to accelerate progress.