DIRTY BUSINESS: Those who work in mica mines are especially vulnerable

LAW REQUIRES FIRMS TO SHOW TRANSPARENCY OF SUPPLY CHAINS

SOME of the world’s top brands including con­fectioners, jewellers and cosmetics giants are failing to disclose slavery and trafficking risks in their operations and supply chains, British anti-slavery experts said last Wednesday (4).

Under Britain’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act, all businesses with a turnover of more than £36 mil­lion must produce an annual statement outlining actions they have taken to combat slavery in their supply chains.

CORE, a corporate accountability watchdog, said a study of 50 big name brands showed many state­ments were short on detail and lacked transparen­cy. Five appeared not to have filed any statement.

An estimated 24.9 million people are in forced labour globally, according to the International Labour Organization.

“The level of complacency from major compa­nies, particularly those that trumpet their corpo­rate social responsibility, is startling,” CORE’s di­rector, Marilyn Croser, said in a statement.

“Genuine transparency about the problems is needed, not just more PR.”

The study looked at statements from compa­nies sourcing raw materials linked to labour ex­ploitation, including cocoa from west Africa, mined gold, mica from India, Indonesian palm oil and tea from Assam.

It also examined those involved in high-risk sectors such as clothing, hotels, construction and Premier League football clubs, the latter being considered high-risk partly because of their hos­pitality and merchandising operations.

Although child labour and forced labour are endemic in west African cocoa production, CORE said Mars was the only chocolate company of those studied to specifically acknowledge possible risks in the supply chain.

Other companies, including Ferrero and Lindt & Sprungli, failed to provide information on their supply chains, it said.

Cosmetics giants, including Estee Lauder, also made no mention of the risks of slavery associated with mica, a sparkly mineral used in makeup, the report said.

Most mica comes from north-east India where around 20,000 children are estimated to work in hundreds of mica mines.

French cosmetics giant L’Oreal SA said last Thursday (5) that it has “zero tolerance” for forced labour in its supply chain and keeps a close eye on its mineral mica sources.

L’Oreal said its commitment to sourcing sustain­able mica in India is reported on its website and its statement under the Modern Slavery Act should be read in conjunction with its public reporting.

Researchers said leading jewellery firms, includ­ing Tiffany and Pandora, had also failed to include any detail on slavery and trafficking risks linked to gold mining, despite estimates suggesting close to one million children work in gold mines.

Pandora said it focused as much as possible on using recycled gold.

“We take this issue very seriously – 86 per cent of our gold is recycled and 100 per cent is certi­fied,” said Claus Teilmann, the company’s vice president of ethics.

The report also said only one of the five tea companies studied referred to Assam in northeast India, a region where low wages have been linked to human trafficking on tea estates.

CORE said just over 3,000 companies had met a September 30 deadline for filing statements under the Modern Slavery Act, meaning thousands had failed to comply.

It added that many of the statements in its study were not signed by a director as required by legislation.

But researchers also highlighted good exam­ples, praising German discount grocery chain Lidl for publishing a list of factories supplying its own-brand textiles and footwear.

Three construction companies – Barratt, Bovis and Unite Students – also acknowledged specific risks in the construction sector and in their own businesses. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)